‘Children missing education’ (CME) are defined by the Department for Education (DfE) as those who are of a compulsory school age, but are either not registered at a school or else not receiving suitable education in place of a school setting, and who have been out of any educational provision for a substantial period of time (usually four weeks or more).
CME may be at a significant risk of:
not meeting their academic potential and underachieving
becoming NEET (not in employment, education or training) in later life
being victims of harm, abuse or exploitation
involvement in criminal or gang-related activity.
There is also a higher proportion of children recorded as missing education when there is a link to poverty, deprivation or involvement with social services. Pupils are identified as persistent absentees if they miss 10% or more of their possible sessions.
The issue of persistent school absence is currently being highlighted in our media and by the Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza. There is also concern with regards to so called ‘Ghost Children’, a group including those missing from education as well as those classed as persistently absent.
In partnership with Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, LCK submitted a response clarifying the situation for children with Long Covid and asking that the needs of these young people are properly considered during the consultation process.
The response points out that this consultation may be overlooking the needs of children who face health inequalities. If children remain on a school roll, but are classed as persistently absent, their needs are not being considered as the current consultation considers only Children Missing From Education.
LCK is a voice advocating for children with this chronic illness who may be too unwell to attend school full time. These children need support to be able to access an education flexibly or to learn remotely. The response clarifies the nature of Long Covid and its often debilitating symptoms as well as outlining the difficulties that our children face.
We draw attention to our Education Experiences and Attendance Survey in which 75.3% of respondents living with Long Covid reported that their educational attendance had been greatly impacted by living with the health condition. The government's own data shows that higher rates of school absence from 2020 onwards are primarily due to illness Pupil attendance and absence in schools in England (shinyapps.io)
The LCK survey shows that children with Long Covid are losing on average 20.6 learning hours a week. 40.2% of respondents think their school lacks an understanding of the impact of Long Covid on the young person’s education and 25.9% reported having experienced pressure from schools to send their young person in when unwell.
What do we propose?
An “education policy which offers adequate support is urgently required”, along with strategies such as part time attendance or flexible learning, which also take into account fluctuations in health.
We point out that strategies to support children struggling with emotionally-based school non-attendance or emotionally based school avoidance focus on the emotional barriers which might be preventing a child from attending school. For a child with Long Covid, the barriers to their attendance are likely to be very different and focus on the physical nature of their condition and their physical symptoms For them, it is not that school attendance is overwhelming and causing extreme anxiety, in fact many of the children we support state that their greatest wish is to return to school full time.
What are the barriers?
One barrier for these children is the reality of implementing the document ‘Working Together to Support School Attendance’ as “Children are not able to rely on the services outlined in the government’s guidance”.
How can I support my child?
Ensure that you discuss the document linked below with your school, to find out how the school and local authority are able to support your child if they will miss more than 15 days due to ill health.
Many other questions remain regarding the health and educational needs of children with Long Covid.
Assumptions such as school being the best place for 100% of our children (School - the Children's Commissioner's view | Children's Commissioner for England (childrenscommissioner.gov.uk) need careful consideration as well as the question as to whether schools can fully support children who would benefit from reduced timetables, flexible or remote learning while school attendance remains a high-stakes situation, with an expectation of 95% attendance and schools being judged by OFSTED on their attendance figures.
While children live with life-changing symptoms and families struggle to seek support, Long Covid Kids must be here.
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