More than 10,000 Wirral children regularly missed school last year according to the latest statistics.
Figures published by the Department for Education (DfE) show 9,529 Wirral children were persistently absent from school, missing 10% of school lessons, while 894 missed more than half of lessons over the 2022-23 academic year.
These are double pre-pandemic figures but similar to trends being seen in schools across England.
Attendance rates since September 2023 show Wirral is currently below the national average with more children missing from lessons for any reason including authorised absences. Persistent absence in primary and secondary schools show 18.6% and 27.3% of pupils are currently missing more than a tenth of their lessons.
School absence has long been a problem in the borough with a 2018 local authority report stating it was “a key issue for many Wirral schools”.
A report published before a council education committee on 1 February said, “Over the last academic year a significant impact on pupil experience has been a significant increase in the number of pupils that have been persistently absent from school, this has significantly increased on pre-COVID-19 levels and is having a significant impact on the progress of pupils at school.”
The report said this year would be the first time those affected by school closures and disruption to teaching during the COVID pandemic will be sitting formal exams, adding, “It is important to consider the educational experiences for young people across Wirral prior to the last academic year, many children will have experienced significant periods of home learning and others have anxiety as they returned to the school environment over the last academic year.
“In addition, young people completing the Good Level of Development Early Years assessment have been impacted significantly in relation to development of speech, language, and communication skills.”
The UK Government has said tackling missed school lessons is a top priority and it has reduced the number of children persistently absent by 380,000. More than a dozen new hubs were set up in January across the UK including in Liverpool that will see 2,000 schools helped following an investment up to £15m.
Currently, parents can be fined £60 for taking their children out of school for an unauthorised absence.
Asked if the current sanctions are working to encourage parents to get their kids back in the classroom, Gillian Keegan MP, Secretary of State for Education, previously told the LDRS, “We know some parents’ attitudes have been changed by the pandemic and they don’t think it’s as important, missing a day here or there doesn’t matter, but every moment in school matters.
“We get daily data from 88% of schools now so we know what’s happening on a daily basis and can see where we need to target the support. When we see it, that’s where we put the money, that’s where we put the investment and Liverpool and Knowsley – where I went to school – I’m keen the kids there get the support they need.”
“We did consult on putting in place a national framework for the fines system and we will be looking at that but I think it’s more complicated than that. If it was as simple as that, we could have easily solved it, it’s much more complex than that.”