Increase in School Absence Due to Pupil Mental Health and Relaxed Parental Attitudes

July 3, 2024

Mental health issues, term-time holidays, and lack of impactful government guidance are causing a rise in post-Covid school absences.

Increase in School Absence Due to Pupil Mental Health and Relaxed Parental Attitudes

In a survey of 498 UK schools, including Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) and local authority maintained schools, new research conducted by Management Information System (MIS) provider Bromcom Computers reveals that 70% of schools have seen an increase in pupil absences over the past two years post-pandemic.

Survey Results:

  • 70% report increased absences over the past two years.
  • 84% cite mental health issues as a significant cause of absences.
  • 59% agree that more access to mental health support would positively impact attendance.
  • 51% of schools disagree that DfE advice on attendance is helpful.
  • 65% believe Ofsted reviews of attendance would have little or no positive impact.
  • 68% report increased absences due to term-time holidays.
  • 80% believe higher fines for unauthorised absences will not deter families from taking holidays during term time.
  • 74% agree that their MIS provides the necessary tools to track and manage attendance.

Mental Health Related Absences on the Rise

With 84% of schools reporting an increase in absences due to mental health issues, such as anxiety, Lorraine Yates, Trust Assistant Principal at Astrea Academy Trust, notes that Years 9 and 10 face the biggest challenges, having been most disrupted by Covid.

“Throughout their childhood up to the end of their statutory school age, they’ve missed out on quite a bit,” Yates says. “From what we’re seeing in our academies, it has had an impact.”

Lack of Impact from DfE Guidance

Since pandemic restrictions were relaxed, concerns have grown around increasing levels of pupil absence. Overall, 50% of schools disagree that the Department for Education’s (DfE) advice is helping, and 65% feel Ofsted reviews of attendance would have minimal positive impact.

Duncan Baldwin, a consultant for the Confederation of School Trusts, comments: “There’s general agreement that the damage done by the pandemic to children’s mental health, the relationships between schools and parents, and the overall culture of school attendance will take years to fix. Increasing fines by £20, as the government has announced, is unlikely to make much difference.”

Deteriorating Partnerships Between Schools and Parents

Astrea Academy Trust’s Lorraine Yates has observed several trends in absences, including a rise in student absences on Fridays. Janice Bowling, Head of Systems and Integration at Greenshaw Learning Trust, highlights that some parents now believe children do not need to attend school every day, a belief reinforced by the experience of virtual schooling during the pandemic.

“The strong partnership between home and school has deteriorated significantly,” Bowling says. “Parents have seen that you can do school virtually, damaging their belief that children should attend school regularly.”

Jo Wilkinson, Attendance Improvement Officer at Stratford Upon Avon School, describes a “seismic shift” in parental attitudes towards school attendance. “Parental disengagement can be a challenge,” she says. “In the current climate, we need to tailor our approach, be very mindful of parents’ circumstances, and act with professional curiosity to reduce barriers to learning and decrease absence.”

The Role of Technology in Tackling Attendance Problems

Feedback from the schools surveyed found that parent engagement is vital to improving attendance.

Ali Guryel, Managing Director of Bromcom Computers, explains: “Parent portals within a modern cloud-based MIS can provide real-time data on a child’s attendance via a web browser or app, significantly improving the quality of communication and parent satisfaction.”

The survey results revealed that 74% of schools agree that their MIS provides the tools to track and manage student attendance. Guryel adds: “This transparency helps parents stay informed and encourages them to take an active role in ensuring their child attends school regularly.”

New Government Guidance on School Absenteeism

The introduction of new DfE guidance on school absenteeism will be made statutory from August this year.

The reforms are part of the government’s plan to improve attendance post-pandemic and include expanding the attendance hubs programme alongside a national awareness campaign aimed at helping parents improve attendance.

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