Why aren’t Britain’s students coming back to school?
A teenage mental health crisis is being ignored
Student absence is a hidden crisis across the Western world, and recent analysis from TES has also revealed the scale of the impact this is having on exam year groups. Year 11s missed 75% more lessons over the autumn and spring terms this academic year than pre-Covid levels. The absence rate among disadvantaged Year 11s is more than double their more privileged peers’ rates; other surveys suggest that up to a third of disadvantaged 15-year-olds have been persistently absent this year.
According to the Centre for Social Justice, just under two million school pupils (roughly one in four) are classified as ‘persistently absent’, meaning they have an attendance rate of under 90%: double pre-pandemic levels. The number of pupils who are ‘severely absent’ — spending more time out of classrooms than in them — has also risen by 134%, and is now the equivalent of around 140 schools.
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This is obviously concerning given that schools are bracing themselves for a return to pre-pandemic grading this summer, but it will also have longer term implications: around 90% of young offenders and 59% of prisoners regularly truanted from school.
The reasons behind school absence are complex, ranging from socioeconomic factors to winter illnesses; at one point coughs, colds, flu and scarlet fever wiped out a third of my Year 8 class simultaneously in December. Then there’s the huge increase in the number of families removing their children from the school register and choosing ‘home-schooling’ instead. Families are not obliged to tell the local council and so no-one knows what the true number actually is: without this safeguarding oversight the likelihood is that many vulnerable children will be falling through the net and may be receiving no schooling at all.
But what is different this time round is the sheer prevalence of anxiety among young people. According to Mental Health Foundation, 27% of 13-19 years olds surveyed said that they felt “anxious, nervous or on edge” all or most days in the past fortnight, while the charity Mind says that 67% of young people have reported being absent from school due to their mental health. As a teacher and tutor I have seen first-hand how this vicious circle spirals: students retreat to the comfort and safety of their homes and online worlds, and the longer they are away, the harder it is to return, as they, and sometimes their parents, normalise this avoidant behaviour.
It also remains unclear how many pupils simply didn’t return after Covid either because they were too disengaged or too far behind. Lockdowns made it all too easy for children to fall off the radar — they were detrimental to students’ academic, physical and mental wellbeing too.
This makes it all the more frustrating that the government is prioritising out-of-touch policies like introducing Maths to 18 rather than helping overstretched families, schools and charities get students back into school. Lockdowns’ lost students have even been nicknamed ‘ghost children’, but perhaps ‘ghosted-children’ would be more appropriate: it’s not so much that they are invisible, but continually ignored and overlooked. We should be doing everything in our power to find them.
I have worked in primary education for many years and have watched as insidious ideas have crept into the education system.
Outside agencies have been brought in to brainwash children in their mental health, gender studies and CRT.
I would take my children out of school without hesitation. I think that is why homeschooling has increased. This is happening in bigger numbers in places like America.
What also gives me pause is the way that as the rhetoric of anti-bullying increases, the actual bullying gets ever worse and ever more prevalent – both online and offline. I cannot understand why it is so rarely addressed. It is heartbreaking to read the number of young children between 10 and 15 who kill themselves as a result. In every case I’ve read, the bullying had been going on for over a year and nothing effective had been done.
Across the board, education has been infiltrated and to a large extent taken over by the extreme left. A small minority of the staff will push the process; the governing bodies will enforce successive shibboleths and the mass will go along with it. Sotto voce, in private, in “safe” areas of the department or the school and among known friends, open denunciations of the process will be voiced. And what prevents the heretics from breaking cover? The knowledge – or at least the well founded supposition – that the heresy hunters have union, state and legal backing; that fighting them will exhaust one’s will to live and that any probable victory will be transient, pyrrhic or purely personal. The only ways to stop the process now are either a volcanic election victory for the forces of reason – not very likely; or some sort of acute crisis leading to a period of social disorder – not very pleasant. One looks back to the nineties with disbelief, to think that under Fukuyama like complacency, the west has allowed itself to be hollowed out and finished off by its deadliest enemies within some thirty years.
Whatever one thinks about “mental health, gender studies and CRT” lessons in school, what irks me is that while they’re learning this they’re not learning the things of real, demonstrable value to them; numbers, letters, literature…
Is school about basic education or “right-thinking”? Shouldn’t the parents and tax-payers have some say in this?
Why put scare quotes around home-schooling?
Probably because she thinks that there isn’t much educational value in home schooling. I would agree with that. As would any parent who got pitchforked into home schooling during the lockdowns.
There is a vast difference between a parent who cares enough to take on the burden of home schooling and the caregiver who had no faith in it but had the burden thrust on them by inept government.
There is also the fact that if you remove your children from the school role then the local council knows who they are and pass the information to the elective home education officer who contacts the family and keeps an eye on the progress of the home educated children. The only ones who might fall through the cracks are the ones who have never been enrolled!
The real concern should be for the students that the school has “off rolled” and the school refusers, whose parents are not prepared nor willing to facilitate their children’s education.
I think you might have an unrealistic idea of how thorough home schooling inspection is. It does not ‘keep an eye on progess’, and in many cases one extremely limited visit is all. The other prevalent problem is independent ‘schools’ who are no such thing. There are at least two Hasidic schools in North London where the curriculum allows no maths or use of english, and pupils are known to have been seriously abused and nothing is done. Likewise with a number of Islamic schools. With home schooling, it’s widely recognised that Covid allowed the minimal inspection process to pretty much disappear, with many teachers still completely at sea about missing students.
Every area is different, some over reach and some may under inspect, it doesn’t change the fact that if your children have been de-registered from school, the LEA knows who they are and that they exist. They haven’t fallen through the cracks unless they LEA has allowed them to. Also, in the UK, its home education not home schooling as few people “do school at home”, largely because it rarely works, especially if your children have come from school and left because of issues there.
The dividend of the first generation to be repeatedly exposed to smart technology and social media pre-adolescence? The young 12yr old encouraged to repeatedly post selfies and look at other selfies on Instagram – healthy? The child who’s development of social interaction skills is two rather than three dimensional – healthy?
The pandemic may not have helped but this trend was already hardwired. It is now like the worst and most stubborn addiction which even parents encourage when they submit to peer pressure and get their child a smart phone for their birthday.
Could we please, please stop adopting the ghastly americanism of ‘student’ for ‘pupil’. UK pupils, unlike the US, do not ‘graduate’ from ‘high school’. They leave secondary education and become students. Conflating the two words does nothing to clarify, and everything to confuse, the actual meaning of what’s happening to whom. OK?…pedant rant over
Too many single parent families.
The ‘maths to 18’ is barking. You can learn everything you need to know for a high-functioning adult life by 16 max. The problem isn’t how long it’s being taught, it’s the shortage of teachers and the size of the classes.
It’s not barking, it’s just not your preferred policy. What is barking is encouraging children to believe they have a gendered soul born in the wrong body.
I am bewildered that so many children can simply vanish without anyone doing anything (or so it seems). Do schools make any attempt to chase up their missing pupils?
This country is one of the most childist countries in the developed world; children, young people and even young adults are always overlooked. Austerity cuts hit them first & hardest: Sure Start – cut or closed, EMA (educational maintenance allowance) – cut, tuition fees – raised ( I have read writers on Unherd refer to ‘mining’ the young). On top of this, youth groups, clubs & societies – gone. These services all enabled children & young people to access sports, leisure and social groups whether their families were struggling or not. They are now the sole responsibility of their families and if the family is struggling, the young will be dragged down with them. Social services are swamped and schools significantly underfunded. I’d be interested to know whether to RSPCA receives more funding than the NSPCC.
The size of not just the classes, but the schools, has a lot to do with this. Not to mention the ridiculous workload of teachers who are now also expected to be social workers and carers, and who have to spend more time filling in forms proving they’ve done something than actually doing it.
Why? Perhaps because it is now fashionable for adults to coddle them – facilitating their avoidance of ‘negative’ feelings; teaching them to regard feelings as Truth (you feel offended, you’ve been offended; you feel fear, you are in danger); and pumping their with narcissistic, rather than loving messages.
Sometime in the 1990s a really idle,unpleasant youth in my class of 15 year olds waved a bit of card at me and told me it was his “time-out” card whereby he could leave my class-where I was asking him to do some work-and go to the counsellor,Dave, instead. I discovered this was now policy and so the inevitable quickly followed. Every shrewd but unwilling pupil now joined the band of no-hopers drinking tea with Dave. The fact that they were the pupils who most needed boundaries and some basic qualifications was merrily ignored. We now have the results of 30 years of sweeping difficult pupils under this carpet of coddling. Funnily enough, the middle-class kids weren’t the ones waving the time-out cards.None of the educationalists seemed to notice which demographic was being hurt by their policies.
From experience we need accurate records on how many children are homeschooled and where they are. What curriculum they follow. The council should keep a register interview the child and do a home visit. Some provision is excellent, not all though.
I work in attendance in secondary education and started to type a comment but have erased it as it is too long and difficult to break down the problem. But maybe these bitesized ideas are worth considering :
Allowing the anxious student to stay at home doing what they choose rewards the anxiety and goes no way to treating it.
Parents don’t know how to deal with it so enable the situation, in some cases willingly.
The idea of uncomfortable challenge is no longer an ideal in some schools – children shouldn’t be made to do anything that makes them uncomfortable. What preparation is this for adulthood?
Schooling is free so rather like the NHS it is abused by the end user who does not value it in many cases. If you aren’t paying it doesn’t matter if you turn up or not This is partly why engagement is so much higher in the private sector.
So much of schools budgets are being diverted to this group of absent students. Money that is being spent on dealing with societal problems to the detriment of students who are actually in school. Contrary to the author’s comments it is usually support staff who manage the absenteeism, teachers in my experience are often little help. We have a team of more than 10 admin staff who support the inability of students to sit in their lessons and learn.
It needs constructive teamwork from parents and schools to support students when things are tough with the end goal being to equip children with skills both emotional and academic that can help them navigate adulthood.
It’s been obvious for a long time that, in the age of the internet, bright kids will educate themselves and the others just won’t get educated – especially since teachers no longer have any sanctions.
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