Families of ‘ghost children’ missing school since pandemic to receive mentoring

Families are to be given mentoring to help get “ghost children” who are regularly missing school back into classrooms.

The Government said it will fund trained mentors to work directly with 1,665 persistently and severely absent children and their families across Knowsley, Doncaster, Stoke-on-Trent and Salford.

When schools in England re-opened during the pandemic in autumn 2020, there were 100,000 pupils who were reported as “severely absent”, which means they spend more time absent from, than present in school. That figure rose to 140,000 pupils, who have been labelled “ghost children”, according to research by the Centre for Social Justice.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said: “It’s important that all parents are engaging with schools to prioritise attendance and ensure pupils are in the classroom where they need to be – because we don’t want the pandemic to create a lost generation of children.

“There are often complex underlying reasons why pupils can become severely or persistently absent. That’s exactly why we’re targeting our approach for persistent and severely absent children by expanding our mentoring programme and working directly with those children and families.”

‘Attendance hubs’

The Government has also announced nine new “attendance hubs”. The hubs consist of schools which have high attendance that share best practice with other schools. Ministers said the new hubs will reach around 600 schools and 200,000 pupils.

Policies shared by hubs could include rolling out automatic text messaging to parents where pupils do not attend school and using data effectively to identify children at risk of poor attendance and in order to intervene early, the Government said.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We agree with the schools minister that the pandemic has had a real, and ongoing, impact on pupil attendance. School and college leaders tell us that absence levels are significantly higher than they were pre-pandemic.”

She added: “Expanding attendance hubs and mentors may be helpful, but this barely scratches the surface of this problem. We think that it is driven largely by a rising tide of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, which are exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis. The Government needs to provide solutions that address the root causes of absence.”

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