Huge increase in the number of school days missed in Portsmouth, figures show

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The city council and MPs have weighed in on school absences in Portsmouth, which are up by 72 per cent since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Government figures show that 84,000 out of 2.7m school sessions in the spring term 2023 were missed without permission by Portsmouth pupils. The city council says illness, in particular mental health, is the main reason for children missing school, with your normal school day consisting of two sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Analysis by the Labour Party has shown that Portsmouth students are absent at a rate of 3.1 per cent compared to 1.9 in 2019. Between 2016 and 2022, school absences in the autumn and spring term increased by some 142 per cent in Portsmouth. Across England, the number of children missing half their lessons tripled between 2016 and 2022. It is estimated that 200,000 children are set to miss half their time at school in 2024. Research from the Centre for Social Justice recently revealed that more than one in four parents think that school isn’t essential every day.

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One in four parents are happy for their child to miss schoolOne in four parents are happy for their child to miss school
One in four parents are happy for their child to miss school

On the figures, Portsmouth South Labour MP Stephen Morgan said: “Persistent absence remains a real challenge in Portsmouth, particularly when our children have already been falling behind in their education following the impact of Covid-19. It is clear the Government is simply not doing enough to tackle the root causes of absenteeism, nor to provide support to those children struggling to attend school. An incoming Labour Government will get a grip on children missing school, prioritising child mental health with a mental health professional in each school, while delivering high and rising standards across all of England’s schools.”

A spokesperson from Portsmouth City Council, the local education authority, described low school attendance as a national issue. “Attendance this autumn term compared to last shows improvement in the city but more work is needed to return to pre-pandemic levels of attendance both locally and nationally,” they said. “Illness remains the single biggest reason given for non-attendance and links to a rise in reported anxiety and issues of mental health. We are working with the NHS and voluntary sector partners to address this.”

Penny Mordaunt, Conservative MP for Portsmouth North and leader of the House of Commons, added: “As a nation, we are still dealing with some of the legacy issues of the pandemic. Progress is being made and there were around 380,000 fewer children persistently absent or not attending school in 2022/23 than in the previous year. However last week the government announced new funding to assist schools in combating absences further and follow up with families. This is an issue we have prioritised since 2010 having inherited a situation where school absence rise by 44 per cent under Labour. “