Family Action welcomes the spotlight the Education Committee’s report casts on the issues of persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils. We particularly appreciate the report’s focus on the complexity of the reasons for persistent absence and the absence of an easy single solution.
Absence may be caused by lots of situations that the report has rightly highlighted – children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, barriers caused by poverty, or special educational needs or disability not being supported adequately. Some families will need extra support to create the structures and routines that are necessary to ensure that children go to school. Specialist work is often required to understand these different circumstances fully and to produce a plan that is going to work for that child and their family. We have learnt through our work how important it is to support schools with additional capacity to do this, and how beneficial it can be to have a third party involved in support, that can work on developing relationships and interventions with the child and families that may be beyond the resources and expertise of the school itself.
We have a wide range of work that supports children and their families within schools and are pleased that the report recognises that the National School Breakfast Programme we deliver can have a beneficial part to play in improving attendance, something we have seen through our latest NSBP progress report.
We also know through our work that the reasons why a child may not be in school may reflect deeper seated problems which need careful interrogation. It is why we are also pleased to see the report’s call for whole family support to be at the forefront of support to reduce persistent absence – it is so important to work with a whole family both to understand and then to address the reasons for absence, not just to punish the absence itself.
The complexity of the possible reasons for absence is key here – we agree with the report that the scale of support currently on offer to reduce absence does not go far enough. We would urge caution to mainly focus on what more the Department for Education can do, and instead say that this should be a national priority for Government, with a systemic joined up approach taken across all Government departments that can help to address the root causes of this rise in persistent absence. Getting children back into school not only supports their attainment, but also reduces potential isolation and supports their overall wellbeing – it is a national priority that must be gripped now to avoid hugely negative impacts for society in the future.