Earlier this year the government published various consultation documents relating to updating guidance on school attendance and the threshold for legal intervention. This was part of an effort, they have said, to reduce the number of children missing in education. Currently it is estimated that since the COVID 19 Pandemic began in March 2020, some 100,000 children are now missing from full-time education; the so-called ‘Ghost Children’. The government’s response to this is not to investigate why so many children and young people are unwilling or unable to return to formal education, but rather to force them back into the classroom on pain of financial and ultimately penal sanctions for their parents/carers. This is an entirely wrong-headed way of approaching the issue, concentrating on the symptoms and not the cause of pupils' absence from school, and failing vulnerable children and scapegoating their families in the process.
Whilst there are undoubtedly myriad reasons why children do not attend school, for many it stems from a failure to accommodate Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND); both diagnosed and not, including the crisis in children's mental health. As IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Educational Advice) have observed:
“The issue of attendance can’t and shouldn’t be considered in isolation from other factors, such as what stops pupils with SEND attending school, what they struggle with, and whether the support they need is being provided”.
Rather than seeking to blame and shame families, the government, schools, local authorities, health providers and social care agencies, need to work proactively and collaboratively to identify the reasons why so many children and young people are struggling to attend school; with a significant number experiencing School Attendance Problems and Barriers (also known as Emotionally Based School Avoidance or "EBSA"), and work to resolve them. In the meantime, those families struggling with this issue should note that the law (section 19 of the Education Act 1996) clearly requires local authorities to put in place alternative education for those children unable to attend school – including for mental health reasons – from the 15th consecutive day of absence (or earlier where it is clear that the absence will be at least this long).
If your child is struggling to attend, or is currently out of school, SENDAdvocacy can provide advice and support. If you need someone in your corner to help you secure the education your child or young person deserves, contact us today.