Rising School Absenteeism in England Demands Sweeping Solutions

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The issue of school absenteeism continues to plague England, prompting lawmakers to call for wider, more impactful solutions. The pandemic saw a worrying increase in the number of students skipping significant amounts of their education, with twice as many pupils affected as pre-pandemic and mental health issues and financial pressures on families being prime culprits.

The plight of Kelsey, a mother of two in Folkestone, Kent – an area with an absenteeism rate surpassing the national average – paints a vivid picture of the problem at hand. Kelsey and her children, Leo and Roxanne, were evicted from their home last fall and subsequently rehoused in a flat about forty minutes and two bus rides away from school. As she grappled to stabilize their situation, Kelsey’s mental health took a toll, sometimes preventing her from ferrying the children to school.

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Initially, Kelsey was too embarrassed to disclose her struggles, but persistent inquiries from the school regarding the children’s repeated absences led to a breakthrough. The school started to send a minibus to transport Leo and Roxanne when Kelsey had a particularly challenging day. The Turner Schools Trust also intervened, enrolling the children in a school closer to their new home. This term, Leo and Roxanne have attended school every day, much to Kelsey’s relief.

Kelsey’s story reflects a broader crisis within our society. The Turner Schools Trust has been among institutions creating full-time positions to support students like Ava who have experienced a prolonged period of absence. Waiting for an autism assessment and struggling with crippling anxiety, Ava had missed almost 17 months of primary school. With specialized support, however, she has now managed to resume regular school attendance.

Among the measures recommended in the Education Select Committee report is ending the “postcode lottery” of fines for parents for unauthorised absences, initiating a review of qualifications for free school meals, and accelerating plans to support students with special needs. The report also highlights the need to acknowledge and tackle cost-of-living pressures that prevent families from affording essentials like uniforms, transport, and food.

Turner Schools Trust CEO Seamus Murphy attests to an escalating crisis of “deep poverty” affecting schools. In 2020, they had to distribute 200 Christmas dinner food boxes to pupils and their families, a figure they expect to more than double this year. With poverty casting a long shadow over education, Mr. Murphy emphasizes the urgency to comprehend and address its far-reaching implications.

The Department for Education asserts that the majority of children are now back in school and assures continued focus on preventing any child from slipping through the cracks. They assure the presence of an expansion plan for their attendance hubs and mentorship programme, and initiatives to work with relevant institutions to identify and assist students requiring extra support.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.