The most recent data highlighted an overall absence rate of 7.5% for the academic year to date which compares with a typical rate of absence of about 4% in previous years. One in five children is missing more than 10% of school and 1.5% of children are missing more than half their time in schools.
This has led to a Parliamentary inquiry by the Education Committee, increased guidance for school staff and reports from OFSTED placing blame with parents for positioning school as optional, the Centre for Social Justice highlighting ghost children – pupils who never returned to school after lockdown - and associated safeguarding risks. In 2022, the Financial Times linked this issue to wider problems in children’s lives such as poverty, violence, mental illness and disability.
But what do children themselves say? The Good Childhood Report highlighted a reduction in recent years in children’s happiness with school and schoolwork. More children completing the survey in 2022 were unhappy with school than with any other aspect of life examined. This is particularly the case for older children, those from lower income households or with a disability. The area most highlighted for development was being listened to and not having a say in decisions that were important to them.
The children suggested realistic and achievable ideas, whilst highlighting the importance of friendship and connection, fun and enjoyment, helping others, having the opportunity to be alone and being healthy. How about this OFSTED?Dr Suz Aynsworth, Educational Psychologist, Gateshead Psychological Service
Dr Aynsworth conducted some research with children which explored their understanding of wellbeing and asked for their suggestions of how to support wellbeing in their school. This research was completed in a primary school in October 2021. The children identified five priorities to support their and other children’s wellbeing in school. We have included the children’s own words, as it is powerful to hear their voices as well as their suggested actions.
Children's top priorities to support wellbeing in school
A calm room or space where you can choose to be alone
“Cuz sometimes you just want to be like on your own”
“And if you're angry, you can relax in this room.”
Helping teachers and others
Helping classmates and teachers in class
Daily feelings check in for class members
“If I help somebody, it feels just like good.”
“Maybe just in case if like something is going on with them and they don't seem very happy that day, you can maybe like, check in on them and see what's on their mind, and how to like help them with what's happened.”
Reminders to eat healthy
Competitions, dares or check-ins to encourage children to eat healthily
“And some healthy foods for eating, so you’re healthy and strong”
A friendship bench for children to seek friendship if they would like to
“We never leave anyone out so that makes everyone happy”
“Friendship bench for the lonely”
A variety of sports equipment and activities available during playtimes and break times
A range of different lessons e.g. Art and ICT
“We have to be excited. You have to be like looking forward to it.”
“And we would all be busy with the fun stuff. Like the activities, likes art, things like art and stuff, and playtime equipment, and some sports things; skipping ropes and everyone will be happy.”
It’s simple stuff really, isn’t it? The children suggested realistic and achievable ideas, whilst highlighting the importance of friendship and connection, fun and enjoyment, helping others, having the opportunity to be alone and being healthy. How about this OFSTED?