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Tackling School Absences

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson has unveiled a new long-term plan to tackle the “generational challenge” of persistent absence of children from school, after new data from the party exposed the scale of the problem in Wakefield.

Speaking at the Centre for Social Justice today, Phillipson unveiled Labour’s plan to get a grip on children missing school as part of her vision to deliver high and rising standards across all of England’s schools.

Analysis by the Party shows over 200,000 children are set to miss half their time at school, including 1378 in Wakefield, by 2026 if rates of children skipping school continue.

Between 2016 and 2022, the number of children missing half their lessons trebled across England with an increase of 195% in Wakefield, and is set to continue rising unless urgent action is taken.

A child is deemed persistently absent if they miss 10 per cent of lessons or more, and severely absent if they miss 50 per cent of lessons or more. Over the course of a year missing ten percent of lessons would equate to four weeks’ worth of schooling, while missing half is the equivalent of missing four months of school.

Labour’s plan includes the creation of a new Register of Home-Schooled Pupils to keep track of those not in mainstream schooling as part of a new package of measures to get to grips with persistent non-attendance and restore flagging public trust in England’s schools. Other measures will include:

• Empowering Ofsted to review absence as part of annual safeguarding spot-checks.

• Using AI to spot trends in absence by joining up existing records for children to improve coordination between education, social care and the wider services that support families, while busting bureaucracy for parents.

• Equipping every school with funding to deliver evidence-based early language interventions to ensure every child develops the strong foundation in speech and language development that sets them up to achieve.

• Increasing mental health support through dedicated counsellors in every secondary school and putting mental health hubs in every community.

• Reforming the curriculum to deliver a better foundation in reading, writing and maths, while ensuring that children do not miss out on music, sport, art and drama.

• Providing universal free breakfast clubs for every primary school pupil in England to boost attendance across the country.

Labour’s intervention after new research from the Centre for Social Justice revealed that more than one in four parents think that school isn’t essential every day.

Simon Lightwood, MP for Wakefield said:

“Every day of education matters for our children’s life chances: that’s why tackling severe absence would be mission critical for Labour in government. 

“The Conservatives have allowed the persistent absence crisis in school attendance to spiral out of control and have no plan to get children back to school.

“Labour’s long term plan will tackle the reasons children are out of class, with mental health counselling, breakfast clubs and a register of home-schooled children, funded by ending tax breaks for private schools.

After a decade of Conservative-driven decline, Labour will put education at the heart of national life to give our children a bright future once again.”


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