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Labour unveils plan to tackle “generation challenge” of persistent absence in schools as unauthorised absences remain above national average in Portsmouth 

By 16 January 2024No Comments

Stephen Morgan MP has welcomed plans unveiled to tackle the “generational challenge” of persistent absence of children from school, as Government figures show 84,000 of 2.7m school sessions in the latest spring term [2023] were missed without permission by pupils in Portsmouth. 

Analysis by Labour has also shown over 200,000 children are set to miss half their time at school across the country.

Between 2016 and 2022, the number of children missing half their lessons trebled across England and is set to continue rising unless urgent action is taken.

Portsmouth children are currently absent at a rate of 3.1 percent compared with 1.8 percent at the same time in 2019, up 72% since the coronavirus pandemic, and above the national average.

A child is deemed persistently absent if they miss 10 per cent of lessons or more, and severely absent if they miss 50 per cent of lessons or more. Over the course of a year missing ten per cent of lessons would equate to four weeks’ worth of schooling, while missing half is the equivalent of missing four months of school.

It comes as new research from the Centre for Social Justice revealed that more than one in four parents think that school isn’t essential every day.

Labour’s plan includes the creation of a new Register of Home-Schooled Pupils to keep track of those not in mainstream schooling as part of a new package of measures to get to grips with persistent non-attendance and restore flagging public trust in England’s schools.

Other measures will include:

  • Empowering Ofsted to review absence as part of annual safeguarding spot-checks.
  • Using AI to spot trends in absence by joining up existing records for children to improve coordination between education, social care and the wider services that support families, while busting bureaucracy for parents.
  • Equipping every school with funding to deliver evidence-based early language interventions to ensure every child develops the strong foundation in speech and language development that sets them up to achieve.
  • Increasing mental health support through dedicated counsellors in every secondary school and putting mental health hubs in every community.
  • Reforming the curriculum to deliver a better foundation in reading, writing and maths, while ensuring that children do not miss out on music, sport, art and drama.
  • Providing universal free breakfast clubs for every primary school pupil in England to boost attendance across the country.

Commenting, Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan said:

“Persistent absence remains a real challenge in Portsmouth, particularly when our children have already been falling behind in their education following the impact of COVID-19.

“It is clear the Government is simply not doing enough to tackle the root causes of absenteeism, nor to provide support to those children struggling to attend school. 

“An incoming Labour Government will get a grip on children missing school, prioritising child mental health with a mental health professional in each school, while delivering high and rising standards across all of England’s schools.”

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:  

“Every day of education matters for our children’s life chances: that’s why tackling severe absence would be mission critical for Labour in government. 

“The Conservatives have allowed the persistent absence crisis in school attendance to spiral out of control and have no plan to get children back to school. 

“Labour’s long-term plan will tackle the reasons children are out of class, with mental health counselling, breakfast clubs and a register of home-schooled children, funded by ending tax breaks for private schools. 

“After a decade of Conservative-driven decline, Labour will put education at the heart of national life to give our children a bright future once again.”

Following his time as the Shadow Minister of State for Schools, Mr Morgan has continued to prioritise ensuring that every child in Portsmouth succeeds and thrives. He regularly visits local schools and lobbies the Government on a range of issues including the crisis in teaching recruitment and retention, child mental health and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on families.