Urgent Action Needed: Huge Amount of Pupil Absence in England’s Schools on Fridays Following Shift in Attitudes Post-Covid

The situation in England’s schools is dire, and we must act now. Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England, has warned MPs that persistent absence from schools is one of the issues of our age. The problem is so severe that it requires a razor sharp focus from everyone involved in education.

Post-Covid, there has been a shift in attitudes towards school attendance. Schools in England are seeing “a huge amount” of pupil absence on Fridays, with children staying at home with their parents. The reasons for this vary, from mental health issues to unmet special educational needs and disabilities. But what is alarming is that the data analysis shows that 818,000 of the 1.6 million children who were persistently absent across the autumn and spring terms in 2021/22 were off school for reasons other than illness.

As we know, the pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to education. Online learning has become the norm, and many children have found it difficult to adjust to this new way of learning. However, Dame Rachel de Souza has warned that one of the reasons children are missing school is due to an attitude that has emerged from online learning. Children are asking, “why can’t we just have online learning?” This is a worrying trend that we need to address urgently.

We must also be aware of the cultural shift that is taking place in our schools. Schools are no longer just places of academic learning; they are now also expected to provide enrichment activities and pastoral care. This is all well and good, but it is important not to lose sight of the fact that academic learning is still the primary reason for attending school. Increased academic pressure to catch up, coupled with the feeling that activities pupils enjoy such as sport or music are being squeezed out of the curriculum, is “fostering” a disengagement from education.

But it’s not just about disengagement from education; it’s also about mental health. Long waiting lists for child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) mean that pupils suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues that make attendance difficult are effectively “being pushed out of school.” This is unacceptable, and we must do more to support these pupils.

In conclusion, we need to take action now. We must focus on severe absence, where pupils miss more than 50% of school sessions. We must also ensure that we provide the support necessary for pupils suffering from mental health issues. We cannot allow this situation to continue. We owe it to our children to provide them with the education and support they need to succeed in life. Let us act now, before it is too late.

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