Anxiety, poverty and undiagnosed special needs fuel spiralling levels of school truancy

Supporting students' access to mental health services is a 'sure fire way of improving daily attendance', an expert says (PA Archive)
Supporting students' access to mental health services is a 'sure fire way of improving daily attendance', an expert says (PA Archive)

School leaders have warned that poverty, anxiety and undiagnosed special needs are fuelling spiralling levels of truancy that have taken hold since the pandemic.

Education experts called for more to be done to help pupils who are living in poverty and whose own or whose parents’ mental health problems are stopping them from going to school.

It comes after both the Government and Labour set out plans to tackle the high levels of children skipping school last week.

Government figures show more than a fifth of pupils in England were "persistently absent" last year - more than double the rate for the equivalent period in 2018.

Neil Miller, Deputy CEO of the London South East Academies Trust, which runs ten schools, said: “Attendance issues are almost always entwined with other contextual matters such as family and social problems.”

Pointing out the reality behind the figures, he said he knows of children living in inadequate temporary accommodation which makes getting into school difficult.

When children cannot afford school uniform, or are hungry or have not slept, they are also less likely to turn up at school, he said.

He added: "We see cases where pupils can’t get to school, due to lack of transport or funds to pay for it – which obviously impacts on attendance."

He added that many children with undiagnosed special educational needs are also more likely to skip school.

He said: "When pupils can’t access the curriculum, they disengage which may then lead to absence if adequate support isn’t provided."

Schools are also concerned that rocketing anxiety levels and mental health problems among both pupils and parents are fuelling absence rates.

A group of top schools, including Alleyn’s, City of London School for Girls and Eton, are so concerned they have formed a coalition to tackle it.

Ed Shackle, Associate Director at Public First, which helps runs the coalition, said supporting young people’s access to mental health services is a "sure fire way of improving daily attendance".

He added: "One of the drivers of decreasing levels of school attendance is rising levels of pupil anxiety and mental health challenges.

"Young people are facing a mental health crisis. At the exact time when their need is the greatest, waiting lists for children and adolescent mental health services have never been longer.

"Schools are taking commendable steps to tackle this head on, including London schools in the state and private sectors sharing best practice. However, we need urgent Government action, consisting of a unified, national response to ensure comprehensive mental health support right across the country.

"Without it, vulnerable young people will continue to be let down by a lack of Government support."

Mr Miller said since the pandemic schools in the London South East Academies Trust have also seen an increase in children and their parents being affected with anxiety and mental health issues.

He said schools in the Trust do all they can to tackle the root causes of truancy, including delivering work to the homes of children who cannot come into school, or even driving them in.