Persistent absence from schools across Rotherham doubles since before Covid

Dr Alan BillingsDr Alan Billings
Dr Alan Billings
RATES of persistent absence from secondary schools in Rotherham have almost doubled since before the pandemic, figures show.

Aside from the lost education hours, there are fears that youngsters are making themselves more vulnerable to criminal and sexual exploitation by not being in class.

A pupil is defined as persistently absent if their attendance rate is below 90 per cent.

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In Rotherham, this figure went from 15 per cent in 2018/19 to 28.3 per cent for the last full academic year.

The picture is reflected around South Yorkshire, and the region’s police commissioner Dr Alan Billings said: “It would seem that during the lockdowns, some young people formed habits of not going to school that proved hard to break afterwards.”

The national figure of 22.9 per cent persistent absence led to children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza organising a roundtable discussion in Hull for professionals.

Dr Billings, who attended remotely, said other issues raised for the missed lessons included children’s struggles with public transport, caring for others, and youngsters who have health issues themselves.

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One persistently absent nine-year-old boy told them: “My mum gets sick quite a lot. If my dad has to go to work to earn some money then I need to stay home and look after my mum and little brother.”

Dr Billings said: “It was a pretty bleak picture. If children are not in school, they fall behind with their education, and the more this happens the more difficult it is for them to progress into a job, an apprenticeship or college. They may be on the streets and vulnerable or online and equally vulnerable.

“A recent joint study from the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education showed that in 2019/20, 81 per cent of children who committed offences had a history of non-attendance at school. For serious violence, the figure was even higher at 85 per cent.

“Last week the government was much exercised with the problem of decaying school buildings. Ministers exuded – quite rightly – a real sense of urgency. Everyone had to act quickly to prevent a disaster occurring.

“We need the same sense of urgency towards those who ought to be in those buildings but all too often are found to be missing. This is a serious way of preventing crime.”