At one school, staff are taking proactive measures such as home visits, reducing the length of school days, and establishing a food bank to facilitate the return of students to classrooms.
Current data indicates that one in six secondary school pupils in Wales are experiencing persistent absenteeism. This concerning trend has been referred to as a “national crisis,” prompting the Welsh government to convene a task force to investigate the reasons behind children’s school absences.
Ceri Ellis, the deputy headteacher of Rhyl High School in Denbighshire, has pointed out a rise in mental health issues among students. She noted that the school’s attendance has decreased by 6% compared to four years ago.
“Pupils are struggling to get in on time too,” said Ms Ellis.
“A lot of adjustments are needed for some children who are struggling with sleep routines, anxiety, perhaps needing to come in a bit later when they’re not involved in the crowds.”
For some, the disruptions caused by Covid are believed to have triggered issues across the UK. In response to attendance challenges, Rhyl High School has expanded its student welfare services, including the addition of nine more staff to assist struggling pupils.
According to Ms. Ellis, nearly one-third of the students regularly make use of support services, highlighting a growing concern regarding self-harm and mental health issues. She noted that there’s a significant number of children grappling with genuine anxiety problems.
Claire Armitstead, the headteacher, expressed her determination not to allow her students to be negatively impacted by a lack of support services. In addition to their well-being initiatives, the school has also funded its own food bank.
Staff members were conducting home visits to address attendance issues among children. According to Ms. Armitstead, they are committed to visiting parents at their homes and engaging in conversations that are accessible for the child.
Their approach is adaptable and focused on ensuring that the child’s needs are met, but this approach does not come cheap.
Ms Armitstead said: “Pre-pandemic, I had two full-time members of staff who led on pupil wellbeing. Now I have four.
“I had two members of staff who led on interventions with pupils’ behaviours to allow them to be successful in school. Now I have nine.”
Ms. Armitstead expressed concern that she might encounter pressure to reduce such services in the event of funding cuts.
She said: “I worry, what do I do? How do I keep those children safe?”
According to data from the Welsh government, Year 11 has witnessed the most significant increase in absenteeism. It’s important to note that these students were in their initial year of secondary school when the lockdowns were enforced.
Welsh Education Minister Jeremy Miles said a group would be set up to tackle school absence.
“A priority of the group will be to look in depth into the reasons behind non-attendance and bring to bear their expertise to identify actions that can bring about sustained improvements,” he said.