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Opinion: 'Third of 15 year olds regularly out of class but Covid lockdown home learning might be to blame'





A third of 15 year olds have been 'persistently' missing from schools in England since September.

The disheartening data, unveiled by analysts FFT Education Datalab, paints a worrisome picture of the approach of some pupils and parents to school and how powerless head teachers appear to be at turning the tide on poor attendance which has done nothing but worsen since the pandemic, writes columnist Lauren Abbott.

A third of 15 year olds are likely to regularly stay away from class Picture: Adobe stock
A third of 15 year olds are likely to regularly stay away from class Picture: Adobe stock

And with absence rates at their highest among children in years 10 and 11 - it's not just attendance scores which are likely to be downgraded as they hurtle towards GCSEs and A Levels.

But rather than focus on those upcoming grades - officials have got to get to the root cause of increasing non-attendance and then throw everything at fixing it, and fast, before it becomes endemic (assuming it hasn't already).

Anecdotal accounts from head teachers suggest families, who contended with mountains of enforced absence during the pandemic, are more relaxed about time away from the classroom now.

Perhaps endless months of less-than-full days of home schooling, constant bubble closures when they went back each time a child within a group of 30 fell ill, and, even maybe now, the odd extra day thrown in for the Queen's funeral or King's coronation now subconsciously makes parents and students question what harm an extra day day off here or there will really do?

Education should indeed be paramount. But the sad truth is that these teenagers have lived through a time when their learning wasn't deemed to be as important as protecting the most vulnerable in society or the NHS.

'As a country we sent hundreds of thousands of children home to learn alone behind closed doors - regardless of whether they had the equipment, know-how or support to succeed...'

As a country we sent hundreds of thousands of children home to learn alone behind closed doors - regardless of whether they had the equipment, know-how or support to succeed - and left them to get on with it for a very long time.

Yes there was online learning. Yes teachers did their level best to keep in touch remotely with the hundreds of pupils spread across towns and cities they were responsible for.

But for more than a year - as a nation - we gave children the impression their learning needed to take a back seat as we shielded the sick and elderly and perhaps they've now developed an attitude to match.

Other factors contributing to an absence of bums on seats are struggles with anxiety and mental health - something extensive waiting lists for help are doing nothing to support - and some families now regularly feeling overly cautious about children coming to school during high levels of illness - something most parents have constantly experienced since classrooms fully reopened.

All of this comes on top of the fallout from temporarily switching to a predicted grades system which only served to widen inequalities - with suggestions last year that teachers were over-predicting A-level grades to try and keep struggling teens motivated.

Children were sent home to learn Stock picture
Children were sent home to learn Stock picture

Some might say if pupils don't show up then that's nothing more than their look out. More fool them.

But this isn't going to be as simple as punishing delinquent teens in order to get them back to school.

This is not a quick fix solvable with hefty fines for parents or woolly incentives for those who make the 9am registration call. It's far more complex than that.

We're now talking about shifted attitudes to learning that have got to be reversed.

If children, who were just months into their formative secondary school years when the pandemic started, have now developed a casual attitude to learning for a multitude of reasons then I can't but think society is partly to blame. And we now owe it to them to fix it.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.



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