MPs launch new inquiry into persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils – Family Law Week

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The Education Select Committee has launched a new inquiry to investigate causes and possible solutions to the growing issue of children’s absence from school.

The Committee states that Government statistics have shown that covid-19 is likely to have had a damaging effect on school attendance. In the 2021 autumn term, the most recent period for which data is available, 23.5% of all pupils were persistently absent (defined as missing 10% or more of sessions) and 1.4% were severely absent (meaning they missed at least 50% of sessions). In the 2018/19 academic year, the figures for persistent and severe absence were 10.9% and 0.8% respectively.

Further the committee notes that disadvantaged pupils are more likely to miss school, with 33.6% of pupils eligible for free school meals being persistently absent in Autumn 2021, compared to 20.0% of pupils who were not eligible. Also, 30.6% of pupils who receive SEND support were persistently absent in Autumn 2021, compared with 21.5% for pupils who are not identified with SEND. Finally, Gypsy Roma pupils and pupils of Irish Traveller heritage had the highest rates of persistent absence in autumn 2021 (55.7% and 63.3% respectively), while Black African and Chinese pupils had the lowest rates (10.8% and 9.9%). Inner London had the lowest rates of persistent absence (19%) and the South West had the highest (26%).

It is intended the committee will also examine links between pupil absence and factors such as economic disadvantage, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), ethnic background, and whether a child or a family member is clinically vulnerable to covid-19. Rates of attendance at alternative provision schools, typically for pupils who cannot attend a mainstream school due to behavioural or SEND-related issues, will also be considered. It will do this by questioning experts and education sector leaders on the Government’s proposals to improve schools’ data collection on attendance. Ministers also propose introducing a new national framework for the use of fines for absence.

It is stated the inquiry will look for ways to better support pupils and their families both inside and beyond the school system to improve attendance. It will also examine whether schools providing breakfast clubs, free meals, and after-school or holiday activities can have a positive impact. It being noted that the Committee has previously supported the use of attendance mentors, it will seek evidence on how the Government’s pilots of attendance mentoring could help.

The Committee is inviting written submissions by Thursday, 9 February 2023 of no more than 3,000 words on:

The factors causing persistent and severe absence among different groups of pupils, in particular: 

Disadvantaged pupils 

Pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds 

Pupils with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), and those who are clinically vulnerable to covid-19

Pupils in alternative provision 

How schools and families can be better supported to improve attendance, and how this affects pupils and families who are clinically vulnerable to covid-19.

The impact of the Department for Education’s proposed reforms to improve attendance. 

The impact of school breakfast clubs and free school meals on improving attendance for disadvantaged pupils. 

The role of the Holiday Activities and Food programme and other after-school and holiday clubs, such as sports, in improving attendance and engagement with school.

Further Information can be accessed here.

Mark Chaloner, Barrister, 42 Bedford Row

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