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Rise in school absences since Covid driven by anxiety and lack of support, say English councils


Apr 24, 2023

According to authorities in England, there has been a sharp rise in the number of students skipping school since the Covid epidemic, with some students “struggling to leave home” due to increased anxiety and a shortage of mental health resources.

Local government officials are also drawing attention to budgetary constraints that have led to reductions in school support staff. Some schools are attempting to “manage” children out of classes or hiding their attendance records, while others are “off-rolling” students to fudge test results.

Parents are reportedly less likely to send their kids to school with mild ailments as a result of public health messages during the pandemic, according to data presented to MPs on the Commons education select committee.

The responses from local authorities come as politicians and school administrators debate how to reduce persistently high absenteeism rates in the classroom.

According to the Department for Education’s (DfE) most recent attendance figures, absences in the spring term of this year were still 50% higher than they were before the pandemic, and in 2021–22, more than one in five secondary students will be “persistently absent,” meaning they will miss 10% or more of their scheduled classes.

“Anxiety and mental health concerns are one of the most significant drivers behind our recent increase in persistent/severe absence from school,” Essex Council testified to the committee looking into school absence.

“We have seen a marked increase in the number of kids and families who find it difficult to leave their home. Although some of these families had anxiety before the epidemic, many of the current cases of mental illness and anxiety seem to have emerged during the pandemic/lockdown times.

The council said that the expanding number of cases was beyond the capacity of the mental health support services. As a result, the report stated, “our schools report a significant growth in the cohort of children who either do not attend school while they are awaiting their assessment and treatment or have persistent/severe absence patterns that can be challenging to challenge.”

According to the Local Government Association (LGA), schools were obliged to reduce pastoral care, making it more difficult to entice vulnerable kids to attend.

The LGA stated in its testimony that “some schools have managed these pressures by practices to control which students are admitted or practices designed to manage children out of the school, such as the inappropriate use of attendance codes, part-time timetables, informal exclusions, off-rolling, and inappropriate use of permanent exclusion.”

According to the LGA, there are “increasing numbers of children in the mainstream school system with additional needs that can cause barriers to school attendance”, such as trauma, hardship, and poverty.

The public health recommendations given during the epidemic, according to Essex Council, “reconditioned” attitudes in favor of keeping kids off. According to the report, “Some parents/families who valued good school attendance prior to Covid may now permit their children to stay home with minor illnesses that they would previously have considered invalid.”

Local governments will use their legal authority to compel attendance more frequently as part of the DfE’s plans to minimize absences. Councils informed MPs that while they agreed with the DfE’s objectives, they lacked the funding necessary to implement them.

“A lot of the neighborhood attendance teams are already operating beyond their capacities.
Councils have regularly informed us that, given the increase in the number of schools they would be collaborating with, they fundamentally lack the ability and resources within their school attendance teams to carry out the additional responsibilities.

The DfE’s plans, according to Essex, would require it to hire 40 attendance officers instead of the eight it can currently afford. The council declared, “We will not be able to accomplish this level of workforce without extra ringfenced resources.

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