In the wake of a concerning crisis in school attendance, the urgent need for strategic interventions has become more apparent than ever. A recent report from the Centre of Social Justice (CSJ) sheds light on alarming school attendance statistics, revealing that students eligible for free school meals (FSM) are three times more likely to face severe absences.
The CSJ has uncovered an association between parental engagement and attendance, as well as evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent teacher strikes, has damaged the trust and relationships between schools and families.
- Severe absences (attendance below 50%) have grown by 133.6% relative to pre-pandemic figures (Autumn Term 2019).
- 16% of parents said their relationship with the school has worsened since the pandemic.
- 35% of parents would like more support from schools.
Moreover, the CSJ suggests that this damage of trust disproportionately impacts disadvantaged families. They found that 77% of parents trust the school to provide quality education, but this figure drops to 70% for low-income households.
As a social enterprise that specialises in supporting children in schools, Evolve is all too aware of this challenge and welcomes some of the recommendations suggested by the CSJ. In particular, we support and encourage the idea for the roll out of attendance mentors, who would work directly with families to identify and address the underlying barriers to school attendance. Our evidence-base of school-based Health Mentors strongly supports the positive impact of direct mentoring in influencing individual circumstances, and we contend that this could be a major factor for improving school attendance, as well as a wide range of other development outcomes such as mental health and emotional competency, which can in turn also improve attendance.
Additionally, as Evolve has always championed the importance of staying active throughout the school day, we fully advocate for the CSJ’s ‘Right to Sport’ recommendation, which proposes access to 5 hours of physical activity a week for every secondary school pupil. However, Evolve Health Mentors already provide these in-school opportunities through breakfast, lunchtime, and after school activities. We firmly believe that these opportunities make the school day more enjoyable and engaging for the students, and serve as a powerful catalyst to drive attendance.
Our Health Mentors deliver on both of these areas, making time to deliver one-to-one mentoring, and providing physical activity to keep students engaged and moving. Therefore, while we fully support the work of this CSJ report and the insights it provides, we suggest that these two separate recommendations can be fulfilled in a single role, as our Health Mentors do.
With 15 years under our belt of placing Health Mentors in schools, Evolve has seen the powerful impact that direct interventions and encouraging physical activity can have on how students engage with the school day. The current situation, intensified by the pandemic, underscores the urgency for increased support. The Health Mentors have proven to make a positive difference in students’ engagement at school, and have been championing the messages outlined in this CSJ report for years. As the attendance crisis deepens, Evolve emphasises the vital need to increase the number of Health Mentors in schools. They are an essential resource for nurturing improved attendance, ensuring every student has the chance to flourish in their educational path.
Evolve wholeheartedly supports the ideas presented by the Centre for Social Justice. Their strategic and inclusive approach to the school attendance crisis overlaps with our commitment to ensuring that every child has the support they need to overcome challenges and thrive in their educational journey.
Read the CSJ Report for yourself: The Missing Link: Restoring the bond between schools and families