School pupil absence rates 'soar to record-high post-pandemic'

School attendance has dropped to a new low as figures show two in five exam-age pupils miss a day a fortnight.

School attendance is at its lowest level in the two decades since records began, according to new figures.

A report from the Scottish Government found the attendance rate in 2022-23 was 90.2%, down from 92% in 2020-21.

It also found system-wide concerns over absences, particularly since the Covid pandemic.

There is no single cause of absence.

Certain groups are more vulnerable to low attendance, including those from poorer backgrounds and those with additional support needs.

Hannah is 11 years old but has never been to school full-time.

She struggled with communication and didn’t speak until she was five.

Her mum Ashly tried in vain to get support for her.

Hannah gets one-to-one support delivered by Hayley from Quarriers

She said: “Primary was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare.

“I’ve had teachers trying to lift Hannah into school, kicking and screaming. That’s not the way I wanted her to go to school.

“Nobody would listen to me that she struggled with certain things. I’ve had teachers tell me she just has to learn to come to school. I felt as if there was something wrong with me as a parent.”

Hannah was referred to the Quarriers Reach project, a pilot scheme run alongside Glasgow City Council.

It supports children and young people who find it difficult to attend school.

Hannah gets one-to-one support three times a week.

Her support worker Hayley Jamieson said: “The difference I have seen in her in the past year is phenomenal.

“She has really come out of her shell, she is more confident, talking with other children, engaging with teachers.

“Her self-esteem has really risen as well, so she’s doing amazing.

“Teachers do an amazing job, but there’s just not enough resources, so having myself there and being able to work one-to-one with the child is really, really beneficial. And fun. I enjoy it.”

Hannah is among a growing number of young people missing school for prolonged periods.

In October, the independent think-thank Reform Scotland used Freedom of Information requests to detail attendance at schools by local authority.

School attendance has hit a record low in Scotland

It is estimated two in five secondary pupils of exam age are missing the equivalent of a day a fortnight – a sharp increase from before the pandemic.

The number missing an average of one day per week has also risen to almost one in five.

The report found that progress, attainment and achievements can be affected by any absence – and that attendance falling below 90% was particularly concerning

Colin Simpson, the Glasgow schools services co-ordinator for Quarriers said, “I have definitely seen an increase in those pupils who have chronic non-attendance issues, who have anxiety-based issues at the core of the reasons for not attending.

“We are only now beginning to understand what the contributory factors are to this significant cohort of children who simply can’t engage with school, and who struggle to engage with school.

“Some of these young people haven’t stepped outside their house in one or two years. That’s the level of anxiety they have, and some of them haven’t engaged with school for more than that, for three or four years.”

All local authorities have a specific aim to reduce absences.

But there are variations in how young people are identified as needing support.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We know that attendance has been impacted for many young people by Covid-19, but are clear that everyone involved with the education system must redouble efforts to ensure children and young people are fully engaged in their learning. Attendance is vital – and ministers are willing to explore all options to make progress.

“That is why the Education Secretary asked Education Scotland to undertake work to better understand the current challenges which influence school attendance. As part of this, the Interim Chief Executive of Education Scotland will work directly with Directors of Education to take forward improvement on attendance as a matter of priority.”

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