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Truancy rates in the UK are among the highest in the developed world. One fifth of all UK teenagers admit to missing half a day of school in a two week period; in China it is less than one in 100.

Schools have been working hard to reduce truancy rates in line with current government policies. There are certainly signs that there are positive steps being achieved in that persistent absence figures reduced by a third between August 2013 and March 2014; in real figures this is a total of 7.7 million fewer school days lost.

Strategies such as The Troubled Family Programme where partnerships between schools, social services, the police and healthcare specialists look to work with those families with a number of issues – including high truancy rates are starting to show inroads are being made. There is still a long way to go to reduce the rates further and schools are looking for ways to encourage pupils to attend from the start of the day and not to leave the premises during school time.

Look at the core issues of truancy and persistent unauthorised absence

Getting to the root of the problem of truancy will be personal to every pupil. The four main areas of a child making the decision to not attend centre around:

  • Home and parental pressures
  • Child-centred reasons
  • Relationships with their peers
  • The school itself

The home life of a child has an incredibly profound effect on their life at school. Issues such as neglect, poverty, abuse, drugs and over-use of alcohol in the home and family health are often key factors in a pupil making the decision to not attend either on a regular or sporadic basis.

With child-centred reasons, seeing it as purely not liking school is a simplistic assertion to make. It’s more often an issue related to self-esteem which affects their social skills and confidence. This then leads to damage within their peer group and not wanting to take up challenges offered to them. Low self-esteem can often be seen in the class through a lack of concentration, aggression when not understanding the academic objectives they need to achieve and poor self-management skills.

Bullying is often a reason a pupil is persistently absent. When relationships with peers break down, the outcome is often bullying which is physical, psychological or more recently through cyber bullying. Those with SEN needs or have a disability are more likely to suffer bullying than any other pupil; 81% of those with SEN support requirements have admitted they have been victims of bullying. Changes in technology mean that cyber bullies can now make lives a misery 24 hours a day and it’s an element of awareness that should be actively tackled by all schools.

The lack of a supportive school environment can mean higher rates of truancy. Practices within schools can induce truancy through low levels of involvement with parents, how issues are communicated and how authoritative an environment exists at the school on a day to day basis. Some schools endeavour continually to bring persistent absence and truancy rates down, but if they are located in an area of socio-economic depravity, it’s often the case that the figures rarely change and some show little improvement in 30 years – however hard they try.

Engagement strategies

Classroom engagement is key to keeping pupils in school but it’s also important for schools to look at ways to engage the parents. Parental support of the pupil improves many outcomes and one of those is attendance. However, there are many families where they have their own barriers to taking part in the education of their child and one may be their own poor experience of education.

All schools should consider this when looking at barriers to learning and find strategies that can engage parents. This could be through parent and child activities such as dads and kids football groups or parent and pupil craft sessions.

Realistically speaking, truancy and persistent absence will never disappear from the education system. There are ways to reduce it though and these could include government-enabled mechanisms for schools to share good practices, the strengthening of parental engagement and there being improved awareness of and strategies for the barriers that affect both parents and their children.

A combination of all levels of education will mean that over the passage of time, rates can improve and relationships be built which will lead to higher achievement of those pupils who currently face leaving school with few or no qualifications.