Tackling Pupil Absence Means Funding Early Intervention Projects and Challenging Reduced Timetables says Faith in Families

Wednesday 22 June 2022.

The Swansea-based charity, Faith in Families, is today calling on Government to tackle pupil absence and uphold a child’s right to an education, by increasing Government funding of early intervention projects across Wales, and challenging the increased use of reduced timetables by headteachers and school governors. There has been an explosion in demand for the charity’s Brighter Futures project services since the start of the pandemic and it also points to the fact that 30% of its vulnerable children and young people are on reduced timetables, with children as young as three going to school for as little as an hour a day. The charity believes the use of reduced timetables must be slashed if pupil absence levels are to be reduced nationwide, as well as the provision of sufficient funding for early intervention and preventative services.

Cherrie Bija, Chief Executive of Faith in Families, explains: “More than a quarter of children in Wales are now eligible for free school meals and the cost-of-living crisis is only going to make things harder for families living close to the poverty line. Only last week, the “Our Brighter Futures Project has seen children’s mental health issues become colossal since the pandemic, and it has led to our services being flooded. Thankfully, we’ve been able to more than double our provision, and we’re currently supporting over 30 schools in Swansea and seeing children thrive in our care. Pupil absence is impacting on children’s rights – specifically their right to an education – and we need a raft of interventions to fix it. Obviously, we and other child-centred projects across Wales, need more funding so we can meet the needs – and rights – of vulnerable children and young people who fall between the gaps. But we also need to find ways to keep these vulnerable children and young people in school. Three in ten of our children are on reduced timetables, which is catastrophic for them – and for us, as a nation.”

The Brighter Futures project, which will be visited by Minister Jeremy Miles on 19 July, offers bespoke, one-to-one support to children, young people and families who have been identified as having emotional/behavioural challenges that impact on home and school life, relationships with peers and families, and on academic attainment. Over the past year, our team of eight staff has doubled the number of schools they work with, with over 30 primary and secondary schools on their books in 2022. This has led to a 164% increase in the hours of intensive therapy they offer: 6,360 hours of one-to-one support to 212 vulnerable children.  It has also increased its group work by 329% delivering peer support to some of the most challenging children in five Swansea primary schools, which includes understanding and managing strong emotions, processing traumatic events, attachment difficulties, anxiety, self-esteem, and family relationships.  

CEO Cherrie Bija, who was recently appointed to the UK Board of BBC Children in Need and Chair of its Impact Committee, continues: “We are seeing catastrophic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s education and life chances, here in Swansea –adverse childhood experiences impact negatively on the developing brain, immune and endocrine systems and they are more likely to go on and engage in antisocial behaviour. Our national response to the pandemic should prioritise schools and the education of ALL children and young people. Vulnerable children and families were already at breaking point pre-pandemic and we are trying to support as many as we can. But we believe people are failing to join the dots and see the impact of reduced timetables on pupil absence levels. Reduced timetables should only be used in strict and limited circumstances where it is proven to be in the child’s best interests.”   

Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) every child has a right to education and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is clear that the overall objective of this right is to maximise the child’s ability and opportunity to participate fully in their society. It is clear that reduced timetables ‘offends the human dignity of the child and is capable of undermining or even destroying the capacity of the child to benefit from educational opportunities’.

Ms Bija continues: “This is a serious children’s rights issue, as it restricts access to education. Reasons for pupil absence includes mental health problems, anxiety, losing the habit of going to school and the cost of living – but our Brighter Futures staff also point to the impact of reduced timetables on some of our children. Indefinite restriction, without plans for a full return, reduces opportunities for a child or young person to build relationships with their peers or meet their full potential, which exasperates the problems they face.  It also sends a message to children and communities across Wales that an education doesn’t matter for ALL children. Government needs to recognise the impact of this practice on pupil absence, and support schools and teachers to be better equipped to help pupils who may be experiencing difficulties, through funding, training, and the introduction of a formal system for recording reduced hours in education.”

Faith in Families has provided written evidence to the Senedd’s Children Young People and Education Committee heard that parents in Wales Inquiry on Pupil Absence this week. Established in 1999, Faith in Families has grown from a tiny charity with a £2k budget and staff of two to what it is today: a vital lifeline to thousands of children and young people, offering services worth over £1m and delivered by over 100 staff and volunteers.

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