MPs will investigate absence from school and support for disadvantaged pupils, after official statistics showed persistent absence soared in the wake of the Covid pandemic.
It comes as the latest Department for Education attendance data also shows absence continued to rise in the last weeks of term last year, driven by illness, with one in seven pupils absent in the week commencing December 12.
However, early estimates suggest absence halved to around 7 per cent by last week.
The Parliamentary education committee has announced a new inquiry focusing on persistent absence, which will “investigate causes and possible solutions to the growing issue of children’s absence from school”.
DfE data published last year showed one in four pupils in England missed 10 per cent or more possible sessions in the autumn term of 2021, up from 13.1 per cent in 2019.
MPs will examine “links between pupil absence and factors such as economic disadvantage, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), ethnic background, and whether a child or a family member is clinically vulnerable to Covid-19”.
In autumn 2021, 33.6 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals were persistently absent, compared to 20 per cent of pupils not eligible. Persistent absence among SEND pupils was 30.6 per cent, compared to 21.5 per cent for those without SEND.
Rates of attendance at alternative provision schools “will also be considered”.
The inquiry will look for ways to “better support pupils and their families both inside and beyond the school system to improve attendance”.
Inquiry will examine effect of breakfast clubs
It will also examine whether schools providing breakfast clubs, free meals, and after-school or holiday activities “can have a positive impact”.
Robin Walker, the former schools minister who now chairs the committee, said missing school “can seriously undermine a child’s education and future life chances”.
“My colleagues and I will examine what innovative methods school leaders may be employing to help stop children and their families falling into a habit of missing school, with the risk of such habits becoming a downward spiral towards ‘severe’ absence.
“We will look at how targeted support can help to improve attendance and seek evidence as to what works both within and beyond the school system to create a positive culture of attendance.”
The committee is inviting written submissions of up to 3,000 words addressing absence of disadvantaged pupils and those with other characteristics, as well as ways schools and families “can be better supported to improve attendance”.
A full terms of reference has been published online.