Family & Education

Helping absentees find a way back to school

There are many reasons a child might disengage from school - we need the right approach to help them


The theme for Children’s Mental Health Week last week was “Let’s Connect”. We know that young people thrive as part of a community, forming meaningful connections that can support their mental health and wellbeing.

For children, school is often the place to form those connections. But with many families experiencing greater pressure than ever before, at the risk of their children’s mental health, children are increasingly disengaging from school, further exacerbating their challenges.

According to government data, in 2020/21 — the last academic year for which data is available — 12.1 per cent of pupils were “persistent absentees” (meaning they missed at least 10 per cent of school sessions), which was an increase on the 10.8 per cent recorded in 2018/19.

There are many reasons why a child might disengage from school and we know that a child has to be in the right place mentally and physically to learn and achieve their potential. This can extend to their environment, their family situation and confidence.

Rather than addressing them piecemeal, it’s important to address the barriers to a child’s learning holistically, with a mixture of individual and group support for both parent and child. Parents need to understand what might be happening at school, so they can better support their child, and children need skills to better understand their own learning.

Improving communication for the family as a whole is key to providing a support system that enables the individual child to overcome their barriers.

Our free advice line was established as an entry point for children and their families in crisis, as a place to turn for advice in real time that, crucially, can set them on the right pathway. While we know families are resilient, our goal for every member of the family is to empower them to advocate for themselves.

Supporting a child’s wellbeing, where there are barriers to learning, should be a cohesive collaboration between the school, the child and their parents. Where communication has broken down, try identifying the school professional capable of forming the most positive relationship with your child and working to find a way forward that fully includes the child’s views.

Parents and professionals can often think they know best for a child, but it is really important that the child is well advocated for and that their voice is heard. That means fully including the child in conversations and supporting them to re-engage at the right time for them, rather than coercing them back into an environment that feels uncomfortable to them. Time can be a great healer and both parents and professionals need to remain calm and take one day at a time. Your child may not feel able to go to school today, but tomorrow is another day.

This academic year, we introduced an Afternoon Homework Club at the Kennedy Leigh Centre for children with special educational needs in year 3 and above. Pupils bring schoolwork and focus on establishing a daily routine around it, which can be key to supporting children back into school. It can be useful to practise getting ready and do a dry run of the journey to and from school.

When a child disengages from school, it’s probably not a question of bad behaviour. They likely want to be at school with their friends, they just don’t feel able to, and it’s important not to punish them by further isolating them from their peer group, who might be best placed to help reintegrate them into their community.

Naomi Dickson is chief executive of Norwood. If you’re concerned your child may be experiencing barriers to learning, you can call Norwood’s free advice line on 020 8457 4450

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive