This week children across the country will be returning to school for the summer term. I hope that all students and teachers enjoyed a well-deserved rest and are feeling energised and ready to learn, catch up with friends, get back to extra-curricular activities and sports, and take on summer exams.
I would like to extend a warm welcome back to everyone who works so hard to ensure that children feel safe, happy and supported in school. Research from my office shows again and again how highly children value their schools, with over half of 9—17‑year‑olds in The Big Ask survey telling us that a good education was one of their most important priorities. Moreover, children tell me that when they need extra help – with their mental health and wellbeing, managing their needs, or just finding a safe space to play when other parts of their lives feel uncertain – school is the first place they turn.
I believe that all schools are an outstanding resource, and one that every child should be able to take advantage of.
For this reason, I am determined to use my time a Children’s Commissioner for England to address issues of attendance. In autumn and spring terms 2021/22, 2 out of every 9 pupils were persistently absent. That’s 1.6 million pupils who missed at least 10% of possible school sessions.
Unfortunately, the children at risk of lowest attendance are often those who most require the additional support that schools can offer: children with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND), mental health needs, and young carers must be enabled to attend and benefit as much from education as their peers. Department for Education statistics released in March show that 44% of children in need, including children looked after by local authorities in England, are persistently absent from school.
My goal of reducing school absences is not about targeting parents if they, at present, are struggling to ensure their child regularly attends school. This is a challenge all of us: for the education and social care system, for the Government, for teachers and support staff, and everyone who cares about attaining the best outcomes for the children in their communities.
My office has produced practical resources for children, parents and schools to support children who are struggling to engage in education.
We also have a helpful how-to guide for school attendance officers to spot pupils at risk of falling persistently absent, tips for intervention and how to re-engage these students.
This coming term I want us all to work together to remove barriers to attendance and ensure that everyone benefits from the incredible work of all staff in education.