With one in four children being persistently absent last term, the education and care system is not working for every child in England, the children’s commissioner has warned.
Rachel de Souza said that while some parents choose to educate their children from home for philosophical reasons and because they have the ability and resource to do so, others are persistently absent from schools due to the challenges they face.
“These can include bullying, poor mental health, poor physical health, poor local Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) provision, or just feeling unsupported by the education system. To me, these challenges are flags to that the education and care system is not working for every child in England,” said the children’s commissioner for England.
“I am working with government to address these challenges so that schools and children’s services can provide the things that children have asked for. But, in order for children to access improved services, we need to know where they are and get them back into the classroom,” she added.
Dame de Souza launched an Attendance Audit earlier this year where all local authorities across the country received a survey and a deep-dive was conducted into 10 areas. The commissioner’s team spoke to nearly 500 people, including over 300 children, to find out more about why children are out of school, to understand the barriers that stop children from attending school regularly and to explore the solutions which would help account for every child.
“From the Attendance Audit I predicted that 1.8 million children were missing from education or persistently absent. So, I was unsurprised when the school census showed that 1.7 million were persistently absent in autumn 2021 compared to 916,000 children in autumn 2020. That’s 1 in 4 children persistently absent last term. I said at the beginning of this school year that I wanted to find every child that isn’t in education to make sure they are safe, happy, and receiving a good quality education,” she added.
Dame de Souza outlined her ambition to get 100% attendance on the first day back in the September term and said her team would be campaigning to get everyone involved in the attendance drive including schools, parents, politicians, local authority leaders, the NHS, the police, and social workers.
“We all need to start working now to get children back into a safe and fun environment where they can get a great education, access enriching opportunities, and make lasting friendships,” she added.
Her report outlines six ambitions that, if implemented correctly, can work as a blueprint to get all children back to school.
Ambition 1. Ask, Listen, Communicate: decisions about children’s education need to be made with children, their families and other adults in their lives.
Ambition 2. Meet children where they are: all children receive support in school, through families of schools.
Ambition 3. Exclusion as a trigger for intervention: children should receive a fantastic education, regardless of setting, always and receive targeted support following exclusion or suspension.
Ambition 4. Letting children be children: no child should feel that they need to miss school to support or care for their family.
Ambition 5. Attendance is everyone’s business: school leaders have a relentless focus on attendance and work together with local authorities to ensure children are supported to be in school and to attend regularly.
Ambition 6. No more ‘known unknowns’: lack of information should no longer be the reason why children are not receiving a suitable education.
“Until we have a system that is designed for and around children, using their, and their families’, voices as the catalyst for making things better we cannot be confident that every child is happy, healthy and safe. We need everyone who has a role in children’s lives to design and implement systems and services with this same vision at their heart,” the children’s commissioner for England concluded.
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