Revealed – Why thousands of school pupils keep missing classes
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More and more children are regularly missing school in Suffolk and Essex, in a pattern that is sparking concern among education leaders.
Almost 10,000 pupils – around 11% of Suffolk’s school population – were classed as being persistently absent during the first two terms of this year, according to new Government figures.
That means they missed at least one in ten classes at school, and in total, state schools in the county lost 486,000 days of teaching.
Meanwhile in Essex these figures, from the Department for Education, were higher with around 18,000 pupils considered ‘persistently absent’ – around 10.5% of school population. In total, 976,000 teaching days were lost.
The figures reveal a 10% rise in Suffolk – from 8,823 pupils for the first two terms of 2016/17 to 9,746 for the same period this year (2017/18).
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And in Essex there was an 8% increase for those two terms – from 17,497 in 2016/17 to 18,893 this year.
Data from both counties is in line with the national picture, which also showed an increase on 2016/17.
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Why is this happening?
According to the Government, around 80% of Suffolk’s absences and 76% of those in Essex were authorised for occasions such as illness and medical appointments.
Jack Abbott, Labour’s education spokesman at Suffolk County Council, described the number of teaching days lost as a “tragedy” and added: “Something seems to be fundamentally wrong with education in Suffolk.
“We have a crisis in SEN provision, some of the highest exclusion rates for primary school children and now we learn that 10,000 children are classed as persistently absent.
“It is a tragedy that nearly half a million days of teaching has been lost in just two terms and I am deeply worried that every day spent out of the classroom not only damages the education of these pupils, but also increases the risk that vulnerable children could fall into gang related activity.
“The council needs to do more than simply offer up warm platitudes and pro actively tackle the causes of persistent absence.”
Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the Essex National Union of Teachers section of the NEU, said many schools carry out a great deal of work to help get pupils back into classrooms – but added this could be becoming a “victim of cuts”.
“As teachers we want to ensure kids are in school as much as possible,” he said.
Department for Education bosses added: “While the number of absences has risen slightly, they are still far below the rate seen in schools ten years ago.
“We have put schools back in control by supporting them.”
What did council chiefs have to say?
A Suffolk County Council spokesman said work was ongoing to address any underlying issues and get pupils going to school regularly.
“Regardless of the cause or type of absence, the council’s position on school attendance remains clear,” he said.
“We can only ‘Raise the Bar’ if the children are in the classroom.
“The local authority, via the county attendance team and Suffolk Family Focus, encourage an early intervention process.
“There has been an increase in the number of families engaging with schools and education welfare officers to seek support to reduce absence.”
Meanwhile, bosses at Essex County Council (ECC) added: “Parents have a legal duty to ensure their children attend school regularly in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school.”
“ECC has a statutory duty to ensure that this legal obligation is fulfilled in accordance with the Education Act 1996.
“However, prior to any legal action being instigated it is the expectation that schools will work with parents/carers and support agencies to improve a child’s school attendance, accessing all appropriate early intervention programmes.
They said: “ECC is clear that the welfare of the child is paramount and as such, expects all parties to work together to improve and sustain attendance.”