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CYPEC Report on Pupil Absence

The Children, Young People and Education Committee (CYPEC) was established by the Senedd to “look at policy and legislation, and to hold the Welsh Government to account in specific areas including children and young people; education; and health, care services, and social care as they relate to children and young people.”

During 2021-22 CYPEC held a short enquiry on pupil absence; background and terms of reference detailed here. The written Report from this Enquiry was published on 14 November.

The Report investigated a wide range of factors affecting continuing post-pandemic pupil absence from school, and made seven concluding Recommendations. The section most relevant to home educators is Chapter 7, What has been the impact of pupil absence on elective home education? [paragraphs 130-152] though occasional references are made to HE in other contexts.

This chapter reports a clear increase in numbers home educating in recent years, some of this attributed to the pandemic. It cites a mixture of reasons for people choosing home education, and reports that the support services for home educating families are stretched, this last point being expanded in [134]

The Welsh Government’s suggested reasons why families were choosing home education may have a familiar ring [131]:

“Between January 2020 and January 2021, 30% of parents/carers cited Covid19 as the reason for choosing to home educate their children. Anxiety, bullying, attendance prosecution, child medical need, SEN/ALN needs not being met in school and relationship breakdown with the school accounted for a further 27%.

Research conducted by University College London in 2021/22 on children in the UK with neurodevelopmental conditions, school attendance and barriers to attendance found that a mismatch between the school offer and child learning needs likely underpins attendance problems and de-registration.”

The Children’s Commissioner, however, told the Committee that there was a difference between deregistering because reasons for persistent absence remained unmet and “making a positive proactive choice to electively home educate.” [135]

Unfortunately this distinction is not always followed through in reality, and home educators still find themselves unhelpfully grouped under an umbrella category of those experiencing problems with school attendance. This underlying association will then inevitably be outworked in any interactions between families and local authorities.

The mismatch factor between “the school offer and child learning needs” remains a common reason for deregistration, so it is good to see it picked up in research findings. However, practical adjustments are needed in order to move on from merely being aware of the problem to providing realistic solutions.

The section on Learners with Additional Learning Needs [34-41] is sensitively written, and includes a range of perspectives. Again, however, there is a need for this to be followed through in policy terms, which is not easy when everything is viewed through the lens of increased school attendance being the only desirable solution.

Chapter 5 investigates whether particular groups of learners are more likely to be absent, and concludes with a section headed “Use of data to identify trends and patterns” [paragraphs 94-104]

There was some desire for data to be disaggregated (i.e. broken down into specific sub-categories), with some stakeholders calling for “more detailed and timely publicly available data” [96]

CYPEC’s view was in line with this [106]

“We support the recommendations in the review which sought to improve the data collection, publication and analysis on pupil absence data. It is clear to us that there is pressing need for more disaggregated data to help identify trends of absence for particular groups of learners. This data should be publicly available, and published on a regular basis, enabling analysis of trends within academic years, and sharing of good practice. It is also important that this data is available at the earliest possible point so that it can help assist with planning for interventions.”

Many home educators keep a careful eye on the use (or potential abuse) of data, and are particularly aware of calls for more data without any mention of the associated risks of data sharing.

Estyn too called for more disaggregated data to “identify areas for local or national support” [133], though they did have some awareness of an alternative narrative about school [123], noting that “Sadly, school is not a pleasant experience for all learners. It may be because they feel unfairly treated, maybe they feel bullied or harassed, they don’t feel valued, or they don’t feel that their individual needs are being met.”

Blended and flexible learning was considered at some length in Chapter 8 [176-190]. This could have been an opportunity for some blue sky thinking, but predictably the education unions were united in their “reservations,” all stressing the statutory nature of school education. CYPEC’s own summary was representative of the overall view [222]

“We are clear that school is the best place for the vast majority of learners. School should not be seen as optional. But for some learners, a more flexible approach to learning will help them sustain engagement with, and attendance at school. We believe blended learning should be offered in exceptional cases. Examples of exceptional cases could include supporting pupils with a medical condition, or young carers. Schools should take a learner first approach, and provide blended learning if it will help support longer term attendance and engagement.“(Emphasis added)

One council was more accepting of the idea [184], but sadly only as a measure “to prevent further entry into elective home education and / or into later escalation of contested ALN cases at tribunal.”

The Minister said [188] the Government was committed to looking at a “strategic way of undertaking digital learning,” but this within the curriculum and with the specific aim “to encourage children back into school.”

The CYPEC view [219] concurred: “We agree with the Minister that for pupils to get the benefits from the current education reforms they need to be in school.”

So despite some acknowledgement that school was not proving a good fit for a number of children for whatever reason, taken as a whole this report showed a disappointing and very limited perception of any alternative educational pathways. There was little real understanding of the motivation for elective home education – apart from as a last resort – and no recognition that meaningful education can and does take place outside the boundaries of the existing system. Unsurprising but disappointing, given the wide brief allocated to the Children, Young People and Education Committee.


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