Persistent absence initiatives must focus on children with SEN

2 mins read

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Today, MPs debate the Kings Speech, which sets out the government’s plan for the year ahead. Opposition MPs are using the debate to highlight data that shows over two million children could be regularly missing school by 2025 if the number of pupils absent from classrooms continues at the current rate – one in four of all children currently at primary and secondary school.

Contact welcomes the focus on persistent absence and calls for greater understanding of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and why they feature so prevalently in persistent absence figures.

Unmet need

Una Summerson, Contact’s Head of Policy, said: “Absence rates for pupils with SEND are significantly higher than their peers. And they are rising, especially across special schools. This is often down to unmet need.

“Just under 40% of calls to Contact’s helpline come from parents who say the school or local authority is not providing the right support for their child. We also hear from parents that the school environment and culture is sometimes detrimental to their child’s needs.

“A focus on mental health is important, but we also need to look at other reasons that children with SEN may be absent. This includes medical reasons, a lack of support in school, delays in assessment for support, lack of suitable school places and disproportionate use of exclusion on children with SEND.”

There is also a disproportionate number of pupils with SEND who are home educated, with reported pressures to do so. Contact has long called for a compulsory register of children who are home educated.

Earlier this year Contact submitted evidence to a parliamentary inquiry on persistent absence. The committee’s report stated: “growing demand for mental health services and special educational needs support, as well as cost-of-living pressures, have compounded a problem that worsened following the Covid lockdowns but remains present”.

Advice for families whose children are absent from school

We have information for parents about absence from school for medical reasons, how to support children back to school after a period of absence and the use of fines for parents whose children are persistently absent.