Pandemic school absences above average in Birmingham

Primary school children in Birmingham were 50 per cent more likely to be persistently absent than the national average at one point during the pandemic.

A Birmingham City Council meeting heard 14.7 per cent of primary school pupils at state schools in the city missed more than 10 per cent of school from September to December of 2020.

This is almost 50 per cent higher than the figure across England for the same period – 9.9 per cent.

The city council has said one of the reasons for the rise in the first year of the pandemic was that help and support was offered where children were not attending due to parents’ fears around the virus – rather than legal action, which had been suspended.

The percentage of persistently absent pupils does not include children who could not attend as they were abiding by public health guidance.

These included those in quarantine after being abroad, children self-isolating after being in contact with a positive case and children sent home in “bubbles”.

The figure for persistent absences among secondary school pupils at the same point was 17.3 in Birmingham compared to 16.3 nationally.

But among pupils eligible for free school meals, the figure was 21.9 per cent – lower than the national average of 24 per cent.

Attendance in the autumn term of 2021 in Birmingham has been at the same level or higher than the national average – with the city’s total attendance standing at 90.2 per cent on November 16 compared to 89.8 nationally.

A city council spokesperson said: “Birmingham had rising Covid rates at the start of the 2020/21 academic year which meant that many parents in the city were worried about returning their children to school after the summer break.

“We were rigorous in our application of the Department for Education attendance guidance and ensured that all children who tested positive with Covid were marked on the register as ill (an authorised absence).

“At that time we also decided to offer help and support to families rather than use legal action in cases where children were not attending school regularly due to parents’ Covid anxiety which may have had an impact on the data.

“As a diverse city we also had children with family overseas who had travelled abroad to see their relatives during the summer break and were then unable to return to Birmingham due to countries closing their borders/quarantine arrangements.”

The city council has launched a campaign titled #youvebeenmissed which aims to tackle emotionally-based school avoidance.

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