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Education Merthyr Tydfil South Wales

Merthyr Tydfil schools have high absenteeism rate, report shows

MORE than a quarter of primary school pupils and more than 40% of secondary pupils in Merthyr Tydfil were classed as persistent absentees in the autumn term of this current academic year, according to a council report.

The Welsh Government has changed the definition of persistent absenteeism to pupils whose absence level is more than 10% and this came into effect in September.

Figures in a Merthyr Tydfil council report show the overall percentage for persistent absentees at the new 90% attendance threshold for primary schools is 27.59% and for secondary schools, it is 42.93%.

The report, for the council’s learning and local government education services scrutiny committee on Monday, March 4, compares autumn term figures for 2022-23 and 2023-24 at the previous 80% persistent absenteeism level and the new threshold.

The overall percentage for persistent absentees at the 80% threshold for primary schools is 7.48%, a decrease of 2.71% from 2022-23 and for secondary schools, it is 19.26%, a decrease of 3.56%.

The report also shows that Merthyr was ranked 17th out of 22 Welsh councils for secondary school attendance in 2022-23, with a figure of 86.3%, compared to the national average of 87.5%.

But the percentage drop across councils from 2018-19 to 2022-23 as a result of Covid saw Merthyr Tydfil have the 11th smallest drop.

Also in 2022-23, primary school attendance was ranked 19th out of 22 Welsh councils, with Merthyr at 91% and the national average at 91.5%. It had the eighth smallest percentage drop across councils from 2018-19 to 2022-23.

When comparing attendances during the autumn term from 2021-2023, the data shows secondary attendance was 85.31% in 2021-22, 85.8% in 2022-23 and 86.5% in 2023-24.

For primary schools, autumn term attendance was 89.73% in 2021-22, 90.59% in 2022-23 and 92.08% in 2023-24.

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Attendances in years one, five and six were below the primary school average in Merthyr (92.08%) between September and December, while attendances in years eight, nine, 10 and 11 were below the secondary school average (86.5%) during the same period.

For looked-after children, attendance for 2022-23 was 90.12% in comparison to 88.23% for other children. Attendance for the autumn term 2023-24 was 88.88%, compared to 89.52% for other children.

The report said action plans are in place and education officers liaise with schools family liaison officers.

Feedback on implementing action plans is said to have been positive in supporting school approaches to tackling persistent absenteeism and during this academic year progress has been encouraging, with the report saying there has been a reduction.

The senior education welfare officer has had discussions with schools that have a persistent absentee percentage above the Merthyr Tydfil average.

The education welfare team and the community focused schools team have worked closely to support schools, relating specifically to work to reduce persistent absenteeism.

The report said: “The persistent absentee data remains a fluctuating picture as more families are booking holidays again since Covid and anxiety and social issues are also a cause for low attendance. With the revised threshold of 90% this will have a significant impact on support and challenge for schools and the local authority due to the volume of pupils and staff capacity.”

It added that fines for school non-attendance were reintroduced in the summer term of 2021-22.

Further work to align school attendance policy is underway, building on work by Welsh Government guidance, the report said.
The Welsh Government attendance grant has allowed the council to support a range of activities aimed at improving attendance, the report said.

The focus is around persistent absenteeism and targeted support to schools with most of the work being focused at the secondary age.

The report said the council’s ambition is for attendance in Merthyr Tydfil to be at least in line with the Welsh average, which for secondary schools in 2022-23 was 87.5% and 91.50% for primaries.