Hull: Mental health issues lead to pupil absences – head teacher

Posted: 24th January 2024

A head teacher in Hull has said there needs to be better understanding of how children’s mental health issues can lead to school absences.

More than one in five children in England are persistently absent from school, which is double the proportion before the Covid pandemic, data showed.

Sarah Sargieson, head teacher at the Venn Boulevard Centre, said the figures reflected a “mental health epidemic”.

The Department for Education (DfE) said it had issued guidance to schools

Ms Sargieson said: “We see children in our school who are really struggling with their mental health.

“That’s increased since the pandemic. There were two years basically where they weren’t able to leave the house, but then suddenly back to school and everything’s normal.

“I think that would have been hard.”

She believes there needs to be more funding for mental health support.

The specialist school teaches the curriculum, but also tries to equip children with the skills they need to cope back in mainstream school.

One pupil there, Ebony, said she stopped going to her former high school because of the impact on her mental health.

“You wanted to get the help, but there wasn’t any there,” she said.

“It was to the point where I just wouldn’t go in for a few months. As soon as I got in a classroom I’d walk straight out and I just wouldn’t be there.

“It was just difficult.”

Another pupil, Megan, said she regularly missed school because of social anxiety.

“I kept on having such anxiety because of the crowds,” she said.

“My mental health was getting proper bad so my old school decided to send me here to help me with my mental health.”

The government has launched a campaign to tackle school attendance which said parents should send their children to school if they are worried or anxious.

The campaign has been criticised by some parents for targeting neurodivergent children and those with mental health issues.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the DfE said: “[School] attendance is vital for a child’s wellbeing, development, and attainment.”

They said there were around 380,000 fewer pupils persistently absent in 2022-23 compared with the previous year, adding that the DfE is working to reduce absences, including by the introduction of a pilot mentoring programme.

“We have also issued guidance to schools about instances where a mental health issue is affecting attendance. [The guidance] includes examples of effective practice where children with a mental health need have been supported to attend,” the spokesperson added.

Source: Hull: Mental health issues lead to pupil absences – head teacher – BBC News

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