Commenting on the Government’s new measures to reduce pupil absence, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"Schools work hard every day to engage and support pupils who for whatever reason are absent from class. School leaders are no strangers to the diverse causes of absenteeism, and have procedures in place to work on relationships with families and build a way back for pupils who have become disengaged from learning.
"This work is important but can often be time consuming. Any support forthcoming is to be welcomed, but it is also incumbent on Government to recognise its role in some of the causes of school absence. This ranges from a narrow and arid curriculum driven by a culture of testing which drains much of the pleasure away from learning, right through to the turbulence that disadvantage and poverty can bring to families - where children may often have to take on carer roles themselves. We must also consider the sheer number of SEND pupils as yet undiagnosed, and the mental health issues which have only increased during the pandemic. Fining parents and punishing students is not the approach that will address these issues.
"As the National Audit Office reported this week, the decimation of local authority support services for schools has had far-reaching consequences. This is also true of support services for families. Schools have had to pick up a lot of this work themselves, often under very challenging funding circumstances of their own and without dedicated staff. If there is to be a step-change on the issue of absenteeism then Government must take a serious look at the investment which is so obviously needed."