School 'ghost children' storing up trouble says MP

time:2023-06-10 21:44:59source:Al Jazeera author:Press center4

Absenteeism from school is storing up problems for young people for "decades to come", a senior MP has warned.

Education Select Committee chair Robert Halfon said more than 100,000 "ghost children" had not returned to school since the coronavirus pandemic began.

In March, the committee warned of an "epidemic" of inequality, exacerbated by the loss of learning due to Covid.

The government has a new Schools Bill which is aiming to tighten up attendance.

Mr Halfon, who is the Conservative MP for Harlow in Essex, told BBC Politics East: "I describe them as the four horsemen of the educational apocalypse galloping towards young people - lost educational attainment, damage to their mental health, damage to their safeguarding and loss of life chances.

"This is going to be with us not just for a few weeks or months, but potentially for decades to come."

Figures for the East of England show 200,803 pupils have been persistently absent [10% of the time], while 11,313 have been severely absent [off 50% of the time].

Latest figures nationally show school attendance was 80.8% on 21 July, compared to 92.2% in March.

However, some parents argue school is not always the place to educate children, while others say more help is needed to support the individual needs of pupils.

Anna Allen, from Essex, said her son suffered mental health issues at school and she had concerns about the bill.

"It's this focus on crime and punishment rather than nurturing children. Children will do well if they can," she said.

"It's not that the children won't attend school, it's that they can't for whatever reason, and the reasons need to be looked into."

Amanda Rolph, from Norfolk, told the BBC she decided to home-educate her son after he had problems at school.

"It became clear he wasn't coping very well. He was very anxious at night. He'd always be asking, 'Is it school tomorrow?' He could never relax, even at weekends," she said.

Director of parents group Square Peg, Ellie expenseello, said it was concerned that schools ignored valid mental health reasons why children could not attend school and were too quick to fine parents.

She said some parents had children who occasionally could not attend school, while others had children who they educated at home.

Square Peg said in its submission to the government on the Schools Bill: "Criminal sanctions such as fines and threats of imprisonment have no place in the state's duty to provide education."

A government blog on the bill said: "We are introducing legislation to bring into force new statutory guidance on attendance, including a requirement for every school to publish a clear attendance policy to improve support."

You can see more on this story on Politics East on BBC One on Sunday, 9 October at 10:00 BST, with it also available on BBC iPlayer afterwards.

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