Children with SEND have higher rates of severe absence from school

4 mins read

Thursday 10 March 2022

Tags: send, attendance, school absence, ghost children

Yesterday the Children’s Commissioner estimated that 1.8 million children are persistently absent from school.

Contact knows from calls to our helpline that there is a sizeable number of children with SEND who are not in school or only there part-time. And we have seen an 8% increase in calls to our SEN helpline on attendance issues in the last six months compared to the same period last year.

Children with disabilities and health conditions have historically had more absences for a number of reasons: health issues, lack of support in school, waiting for a suitable school place, waiting for a first or updated Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), as well as being subject to higher rates of exclusion and illegal exclusion.

Severe absence of SEN pupils triple the rate of other pupils

But the pandemic has added to this. A report by the Centre for Social Justice, Lost but not forgotten, found that in Autumn 2020, the rate of severe absence for pupils on SEN support was close to triple the rate of pupils with no identified SEN.

Amanda Batten, Chief Executive of Contact, said: “Attendance issues for disabled children is not new, but it has certainly worsened. The disruption of lockdowns, as well as children told to shield for many months, has had an impact on the school attendance of children with disabilities and health conditions.

“There are some children shielding until they have their second covid jab in April. For those that are back, there are children still on part-time timetables. Children with autism who struggled with changes to routine, are continuing to have difficulty getting back into a normal pattern of school. And children with health conditions have found it physically challenging to manage a full day at school after so long off.

“In many cases what is needed is urgent access to therapies, and mental health support and quick processing of assessments of need, to enable children to get back into a normal school routine.”

Increase support to help children back into normal school routine

Contact knows of families who deregistered their children from school due to shielding. Some deregistered siblings of shielding children, to protect them.

The number of families with disabled children choosing to home educate or feeling they have no choice but to home educate due to lack of suitable provision, also rose during the pandemic.

We are hearing from more parents being threatened with fines due to their child’s poor attendance.

The Children’s Commissioner has today called for local authorities to keep a better record of children who are not attending school. Dame Rachel de Souza said urgent action was needed to identify the children most at risk, and the reasons why they miss school.

Amanda Batten added: “Children with SEND experienced disruption to and absences from education long before the pandemic. Sadly this has worsened and we must ensure that the support they need to get them back into school routines is available.”

Family experiences

“My son has been diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety and has dropped to 80% attendance. They are threatening with fines. My son is being failed by the system and everything is such a fight. The school are happy to send him home every time he has a panic attack.”

“My daughter was shielding until her covid vaccine, her younger brother is ASD and needed to stay home to keep her safe. The local authority were adamant he should be in school. It was incredibly stressful.”

“I’ve been waiting since last July for my daughter’s EHCP to be updated.”

“My daughter, 14, been to school maybe 6 times in 2 years. System has completely failed her. No help or support. Been to a tribunal and still got nowhere.”

Help and advice on attendance issues

We have advice on absence from school, going back to school after absence, information about fines for non attendance and more.