Exploring School Attendance Challenges: A Podcast Discussion Wednesday, 20 December 2023

In this episode of our podcast series, we discuss the critical issue of school attendance, led by our hosts Esther Chesterman, CEO of the National Extension College, and Samreen Shah, an educational consultant and Assistant Head in SCMH schools. They engage in an enlightening conversation, shedding light on various aspects of the growing concern of school attendance.

The episode begins with a look at recent data related to school attendance, referencing FFT Data Labs, who specialise in education data analysis. The data reveals that while primary school attendance is showing signs of recovery, getting closer to pre-pandemic levels, secondary schools continue to grapple with attendance issues.

Secondary school students have missed 7.9% of sessions this year, a significant increase from the pre-pandemic rate of 5.6%. The hosts also highlight regional disparities, with the North East reporting the highest absence rates and London experiencing the lowest. These regional differences prompt questions about the underlying factors contributing to such discrepancies.

The central question of why young people are avoiding school takes centre stage. The hosts acknowledge that this issue goes beyond school strategies and policies, encompassing complex factors such as students’ mental health, socioeconomic backgrounds, and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Esther and Samreen note that many effective strategies often revolve around parental engagement. However, they question whether these strategies are comprehensive enough to address the multifaceted reasons behind student non-attendance. They argue that blaming parents oversimplifies the issue and that the pandemic has, to some extent, normalised school non-attendance.

Furthermore, the hosts explore how the pandemic may have altered students’ perceptions of attending school and its potential impact on their future education. They express the need for a longitudinal study to investigate these trends and their implications on lifelong learning.

The role of the government in addressing school attendance is very much part of the discussion. They cite the government’s emphasis on promoting good attendance, setting high expectations, and data analysis for improvement. However, they stress that data alone cannot provide a comprehensive understanding of the issue, as it does not consider individual circumstances.

Esther and Samreen advocate for a balanced approach that combines whole-school strategies to create a culture of attendance and student-specific strategies that address individual challenges. They argue that attendance is not a one-size-fits-all problem and that students often face complex obstacles that require tailored solutions.

Looking ahead, the hosts express their intention to further dissect the attendance issue in upcoming episodes. They plan to explore the “why” behind attendance problems and discuss potential solutions based on research and insights. They also encourage listeners to share their thoughts and experiences on this critical topic.

In conclusion, the podcast episode highlights that while attendance data reveals the extent of the issue, understanding the “why” and finding effective solutions demands a comprehensive approach. Esther and Samreen are committed to continuing this conversation and providing valuable insights to address this crucial challenge in education.

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