Fridays off: England's schools report surge in student absences

MPs have been warned that there has been a rise in pupils missing school, with one of the main reasons being parents' changing work patterns. Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England, said that discussions with families had revealed that more children are staying at home on Fridays due to their parents working from home. De Souza also mentioned that data showed 818,000 of the 1.6 million children persistently absent across the autumn and spring terms in 2021/22 were off school for reasons other than illness. She called for a “razor sharp focus” on the issue of persistent absence from schools.

Other key factors behind the rise in persistent absence include mental health issues, unmet special educational needs and disabilities, and disadvantage. The committee also heard that there has been a “cultural shift” away from schools as purely places of academic learning with a new emphasis on enrichment activities and pastoral care. However, increased academic pressure to catch up, plus a feeling that activities pupils enjoyed such as sport or music were being squeezed out of the curriculum, were “fostering” a disengagement from education, said Alice Wilcock, head of education at the Centre for Social Justice thinktank.

Furthermore, MPs were told that waiting lists for child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) have increased for the first time since 2017, which has resulted in pupils suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues effectively “being pushed out of school”. There have also been differences in waiting times depending on where you live. While long waiting times are a problem across the country, there are stark differences in waiting times depending on the area.

Overall, mental health support for children across the country remains patchy, according to the children's commissioner. The government has already invested £2.3bn a year into mental health services and has plans to increase the number of mental health teams to almost 400 by April 2023, providing support to three million children and young people.

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