One in seven pupils persistently absent from Swindon primary schools

By Jamie Hill - 22 August 2023


One in seven primary school pupils in Swindon were persistently absent this year, as rates remain high after the pandemic, recent figures show.

The Centre for Education and Youth said the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis were both having an impact on school attendance.

Department for Education figures show 15.4% of pupils missed at least 10% of sessions in the school year 2022-23 and were considered persistently absent from the 64 primary schools that reported numbers for Swindon. The rate was lower than secondary schools, where the figure stood at 27%.

In 2018-19, before the pandemic, the persistent absence rate for primary schools was 7% and 14.2% for secondaries.

Alix Robertson, head of engagement at the Centre for Education and Youth, said the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is “still casting a long shadow over schools and their pupils”.

She added: "We know that many families are struggling with the pressures of the cost-of-living crisis. This may have an impact on attendance in terms of the financial burden of sending children to school, for example affording school uniforms or travel.

“In the worst cases, some families have lost their homes, leaving them to grapple with more significant issues than making it to school.”

The national figures exceeded pre-pandemic levels, with 22.3% of pupils persistently missing sessions. Although slightly lower than last year, the number was still significantly up on 10.9% in 2018-19.

The Association of Schools and College Leaders said absence is also driven by a rising number of children struggling with their mental health and wellbeing after the lockdowns.

In Swindon, 5.7% of sessions were missed by primary school pupils and 9.5% by those in secondary schools. Across the country, the overall absence rate remained unchanged from the previous academic year – 7.5% on average for all types of schools.

Secondary school children had the highest unauthorised absence of 3.2% sessions missed.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said: “These are serious issues that schools cannot solve on their own.

“The Government needs to work out exactly what is driving poor attendance and then to make sure the appropriate support and resources are put in place.

“This is likely to mean investment in terms of mental health support and particularly local services for children who need specialist help and who often face very long waiting lists.”

Education secretary Gillian Keegan said: “We are supporting parents and teachers year-round to make sure children are in classrooms and ready to learn – from attendance mentors and school staff giving direct support to children and families, to our Holiday Activity and Food programmes running over summer and helping prepare children for school in September.

“Being in school is quite simply the most important thing for children’s education, and so valuable for their mental health.

We all – Government, schools, parents and young people – have a part to play in making sure classrooms are full day in, day out.”

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