ISSUES related to cannabis use have contributed to an increase in pupil exclusions from school, a report to Flintshire councillors says.
The council’s education, youth and culture scrutiny committee meets tomorrow (May 11) to discuss school absences with a report focusing on the academic year 2021-22.
Post-Covid pupil absences whether through illness, holidays or exclusions, are on the increase in Flintshire but there are similar trends across Wales, according to the report of the council’s chief officer for education.
It states the main factor impacting on attendance continues to be illness with mental health issues a concern for learners, particularly in secondary schools.
“Attendance across Flintshire schools remains lower than pre-pandemic levels, with illness accounting for the majority of absences”, the report says.
“The levels of permanent and fixed-term exclusion remain on an increasing trend, particularly across the secondary sector.
“Meetings on a regional and national level suggest that similar trends with regards to attendance and exclusion are evident across other authorities and concerns continue to be flagged to Welsh Government.”
The report adds: “It is evident that illness remained the predominant reason for absence across the year in both sectors with this significantly surpassing all other reasons.
“The Covid absence code remained available for schools to use until August 2022 and the use of this reflects the continued impact of the Covid virus on school communities during 2021/22.
“Holiday absences increased significantly in the primary sector for 21/22 as travel restrictions eased. Once again this reflects the significant impact of the COVID-19 lockdown with many families keen to resume holiday bookings after the lockdown ceased.”
Parents have a statutory duty to ensure their children attend school, and action can be taken against those whose children do not attend without good reason.
Fixed penalty notices can be issued and parents can also be taken to court.
The report adds: “The levels of unauthorised absence are gradually increasing.
“Whilst the percentages overall remain low, it does indicate that headteachers are presenting an increasing level of challenge to parents/carers where they feel there is insufficient evidence to support learner absence.
“In 21/22 an initial batch of 10 fines were issued. Of these, seven were progressed and upheld by the magistrates’ court resulting in one conditional discharge and six considerable financial penalties.”
Exclusions due to pupil behaviour are also covered in the report which notes that some pupils are vulnerable, at risk of exploitation and substance abuse.
Issues associated to cannabis use have been highlighted as a contributing factor and the council is working with partner agencies to provide intervention and support.
It says: “The level of fixed term and permanent exclusion across our schools had generally been increasing in the period prior to the initial lockdown.
“The main reasons cited for exclusion were physical assault against a pupil, verbal/threatening behaviour against an adult, persistent and disruptive behaviour and ‘other’.
“Council services work in partnership with individuals, schools and families to offer support and intervention to prevent exclusion.
“The increasing complexity of need and wider contributing factors such as children at risk of exploitation, substance misuse issues and anti-social behaviour continues to make this increasingly difficult.”
The report adds: “However, one noticeable increase recorded was in relation to substance related issues mainly associated with cannabis usage.
“A partnership approach has been developed in such cases to provide support with agencies such as the Drug and Alcohol service ‘Sorted’ being key to these interventions.
“North Wales Police are consulted or engaged as appropriate but this trend was recognised as a matter that required a revised strategic approach to meet this increasing trend within the locality during 21/22. “
The scrutiny committee meets to discuss the report tomorrow (May 11).