Education leaders go to war on Portsmouth children missing classes

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SOARING absence rates at schools have sparked a crackdown with parents warned they are putting children’s futures at risk by not getting them into classes.

School nurses are set to confront and question parents on their child’s symptoms when calling in sick in a bid to find if they are truly unwell.

Picture: David Davies/PA

Picture: David Davies/PA

It comes as on average nearly one in five children are absent from Portsmouth classrooms for the equivalent of at least one full day every two weeks.

Across schools in Fareham, Gosport and Havant this comes down to 13.1 per cent of children, compared to the national average of 13.5 per cent. In Portsmouth it is 17.1 per cent.

Deputy director for children’s services at Portsmouth City Council, Mike Stoneman, said: ‘Attendance and increasing rates of exclusion are undoubtedly a big issue.

‘Attainment standards in Portsmouth are below where they need to be and if we could improve attendance by a few percent I believe it would make a huge difference to outcomes.’

The school nurses scheme –  one of many parts of the council’s absence campaign – is being piloted in 10 schools across the city.

Mr Stoneman added: ‘Around 65 percent of absence is reported as health related but many of these aren’t really.

‘We currently have ten schools with dedicated nurses who will challenge parents. If this pilot works then we hope to roll out the programme across the city.’

Steve Labedz, executive headteacher at the Salterns Trust, which oversees Admiral Lord Nelson School and Trafalgar School in Portsmouth, is confident the strategy can have a positive impact.

‘We would love to be involved in this strategy,’ he said.

‘There was a similar project in Paulsgrove and it certainly had the desired effect.

‘It made a big difference as having spoken to a medical professional it gave some parents the confidence to challenge their children as to whether they were genuinely ill.’

Horndean Technology College headteacher Julie Summerfield, said: ‘Persistent absence and increasing rates of exclusion is something all schools are encountering and have issues with.’

In primary schools 8.5 per cent of pupils in Portsmouth were persistently absent – compared to the 8.3 per cent national average. For Hampshire it was 6.2 per cent.