The Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee has heard concerning evidence about how the cost of living crisis is impacting school attendance. The Committee is calling for an urgent study by the Welsh Government to better understand the problems facing families.
Issues such as travel costs, uniforms, equipment and school trips have been raised by those giving evidence to the Committee.
The Children’s Commissioner for Wales, for example, told the Committee that attendance figures are “significantly lower” for children in year groups which are not entitled to free travel. She called for action to be taken to extend entitlements and said that some of the support for travel is “not fit for purpose.”
The Children’s Commissioner also advised the Committee that persistent absence needs to be seen in the context of poverty. She said that tackling child poverty “needs to be a key driver in reducing absence.”
As of October 2022, the attendance for the current academic year, has shown lowest attendance for pupils in Year 11 and highest attendance for pupils in Year 7. Attendance has been higher for those pupils not eligible for free school meals than for those pupils eligible for free school meals, at 93.1% attendance compared to 86.9% attendance. The most common reason given for absence is sickness.
Responding to the concerns raised and challenges for parents during a cost of living crisis, the Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to commission an urgent study into how the crisis is impacting pupils’ ability to attend school.
Impact of the pandemic
From the evidence the Committee has gathered, it is clear that pandemic school closures have led to a more accepting attitude to lower school attendance.
The Vale of Glamorgan Council suggests that the impact of broader social changes, such as the move to working from home was also a contributory factor, as attendance is “no longer synonymous with attainment or outcomes.”
The Association of School and College Leaders Cymru (ASCL) added that there has been “a significant drop in parental concern” on the importance of attendance, and that students also perceive attendance as not as important.
A public campaign
To address the widespread concerns about pupil absence and the impact it is having on children, the Committee believes it is now essential that schools, local authorities, and the Welsh Government work together on a public campaign to reinforce messaging about the importance of school attendance.
The Committee is calling for both local and national campaigns that are positive and provide encouraging messages about school attendance.
Jayne Bryant MS, Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee said:
“The impact absence from school has on young people can’t be underestimated. Not only does it affect educational attainment it can also have an impact on mental health and well-being.
“The pandemic has impacted children and young people in many ways. Following school closures and changing work patterns for parents, we have heard how it has also changed attitudes towards attendance at school.
“Sending children to school is also an expensive business for families. Parents have to find money for uniforms, books, technology, stationery, school bags, school trips, after school clubs. The lack of free transport is also an issue for many - in a cost of living crisis with rising inflation, this is getting even harder every day.
“Today, we’re calling on the Welsh Government to get to the bottom of how rising costs are impacting pupil attendance and to start campaigns nationwide and locally reinforcing the importance of school attendance.”
The Committee’s inquiry into pupil absence looked at the pre-existing reasons for absence that were compounded by COVID-19:
- Poverty, disadvantage and learners eligible for free school meals;
- Special and additional learning needs;
- Cultural issues;
- Parental influence and families with complex and multiple needs
- Anxiety, mental health and wellbeing and disengagement issues.
It has also looked at pandemic related reasons for absence:
- COVID-19 as an illness, self-isolation and school directed absences;
- Anxiety, mental health and wellbeing issues;
- Relating to health concerns;
- Relating to education concerns
- Disengagement and more casual attitudes to learning