School absences have become a serious issue in England, with twice as many pupils missing significant amounts of school as before the pandemic. The Education Select Committee has called for national measures to address the problem, which can affect children’s education, development, and future prospects. However, some schools are taking their own initiatives to help families and children who are struggling to attend school regularly. One of them is a school in Folkestone, Kent, where absence rates are higher than the national average. This school has implemented a program to pick up and drop off children who are at risk of missing school, resulting in improved attendance and well-being.

The impact of housing instability on school attendance

One of the factors that can contribute to school absences is housing instability, which can affect families’ mental health, finances, and transportation. Kelsey and her two children, Leo and Roxanne, experienced this when they were evicted from their home last autumn. They were rehoused in a flat that was far from their primary school, requiring two bus rides and at least 40 minutes of travel time. As Kelsey tried to stabilize their life, her mental health deteriorated, making it hard for her to get out of bed and get the children to school.

How a school in Folkestone is tackling the crisis of school absences
How a school in Folkestone is tackling the crisis of school absences

“It was hard, mentally draining, physically draining, like you don’t want to get out of bed,” she says. “You feel like you’re not good enough for your children.”

Kelsey’s depression meant she was sometimes unable to get the children to school. She was too embarrassed to admit she was struggling, but the school noticed their absence and started asking questions.

The school’s intervention and support

The school that Leo and Roxanne attended is part of the Turner Schools Trust, which runs four schools in Folkestone. The trust has a family liaison worker, Hayley Prescott, who works with families in crisis, often because of poor housing.

“We’ve had a lot of families in the situation where they’re going to be evicted, or placed in temporary accommodation – a bedroom with a sink, with a toilet down the corridor,” she says.

Hayley’s job includes picking up and dropping off children who are at risk of missing school. She also helps them with homework, emotional support, and referrals to other services. She says it takes a while to build trust with families who are facing difficulties.

The trust also tries to find places for children at schools that are closer to their new homes. This is what happened for Leo and Roxanne, who were transferred to a school nearer to their flat. This term, they have been in school every day.

“It’s made a massive difference,” Kelsey says. “It gave me more spirit, just from accepting the help.”

She also says she now looks forward to hearing about the children’s day and can walk them to school, knowing there is someone she can ask for help if she needs it.

The need for national measures

The Education Select Committee report says the kind of intensive support that Kelsey and her children received should be more widespread. It recommends expanding a pilot scheme for attendance mentors, who help families get children to school. It also calls for more funding and resources for schools to address the complex reasons behind school absences.

Robin Walker, who chairs the committee, says missing school can damage “children’s education, their development, [and] future prospects”.

He also says that the government should set a clear target for reducing persistent absence rates and monitor the impact of its policies on different groups of pupils.

The report acknowledges that some schools have been proactive in tackling the issue of school absences, but says that more needs to be done at a national level.

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