Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, has expressed support for headteachers to personally visit the homes of absent children and use active persuasion to ensure their prompt return to school.
With a concerning number of students disengaging from education in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Keegan acknowledged the urgency of the situation and the need for innovative approaches.
In an interview with Sky News, she acknowledged that while it may not be the ideal use of headteachers’ time, the importance of having all children back in school outweighs the temporary inconvenience.
Keegan emphasized the collective responsibility to address the issue, sharing that headteachers have relayed stories of their successful efforts, including personally driving to pick up absent students or sending morning text messages to parents.
Recent data revealed alarming figures, with 125,000 pupils spending more time out of school than attending, leading Keegan to acknowledge the attendance crisis. Additionally, there are 1.7 million persistently absent students and 95,000 children who are completely missing from the education system.
Keegan, however, refuted claims of lacking control over the problem and highlighted the government’s efforts to address the issue. The introduction of attendance hubs for primary, secondary, and alternative provision schools was announced in May, aimed at improving attendance rates.
While this program is expected to impact only 1 percent of severely absent children, Keegan emphasized that it is not the sole solution. She stressed the importance of children returning to school in September and acknowledged the anxieties faced by those who feel left behind.
In an effort to monitor and support children out of education, the government plans to introduce legislation to make the voluntary register a statutory requirement. Although Keegan did not provide an exact date, she assured that the government is committed to implementing this change as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Sky News analyzed Keegan’s remarks as indicative of a significant shift in government approach, moving away from punitive measures towards a more supportive stance to address the issue of absenteeism.