IT is a simple fact that a child who is frequently missing school is never going to do as well as one who turns up every day. The evidence is all too clear: in 2018-19, just 36 per cent of persistently absent children got nine to four in their English and maths GCSEs compared with 84 per cent of pupils who were regular attenders.

And the sad truth is that unless their attendance improves, they are unlikely to ever make up this lost ground. 

Of course, every year some children do have to miss a lot of normal school because they’re seriously ill; schools will try to set work that can be done outside school, where possible, and know how best to support these children in their learning while they seek treatment.

There are others who need support with their attendance and this is why we’ve appointed children’s charity Barnardo’s to run a three-year mentoring programme, which is a new approach to tackle absenteeism. The programme is currently running in five areas and I am excited that Middlesbrough is one of the first test pilots. 

The programme provides intensive one-to-one support to pupils who are persistently absent, which means they miss more than 10 per cent of their education – that’s a day a fortnight.

The mentors work with them and their families to find out why the child is missing. This can lead to extra support, more intensive work with teachers or, in some cases, bridge-building between school and family if relationships have broken down between the two. Schools and parents need to work in partnership to support children who are struggling to attend, and effective mentoring can help. 

Middlesbrough is not alone in having to grapple with absenteeism. Every local area is facing its own challenges. It is a widespread issue across the developed world post Covid, and one with many causes. The pandemic particularly, broke attendance habits and resulted in more children being absent than previously.   

Absenteeism has a high cost and it’s not just an academic one. Clamping down on it is a big priority for us because of its impact on social mobility and inclusion. Persistent absence will cast a long shadow over a child’s future prospects. This is particularly damaging for disadvantaged pupils who already face an attainment gap. We know that absence has a further particularly punishing impact on this. 

The mentoring programme will act alongside a number of other measures we have already put in place including 14 attendance hubs which each share tips and resources to improve attendance with 60 schools.

But absence is not just a matter for schools. Making sure a child attends school has to begin at home. If you are a parent, it’s important to remember that taking your child out of school during term time, for a day out or a holiday, say, means that they are going miss out on crucial learning. The effects of those missed lessons will build up, making it harder for the child to re-engage with learning when they eventually do go back.

I know some children can get anxious about the prospect of being in school but, for mild and moderate cases, prolonging that absence can make things worse, not better.

With mild illness it is often OK, and better, to be in school and the NHS has guidance about this on its website to help parents. It’s vital that parents and schools work together jointly to find solutions. 

Every day a child isn’t in school, there’s a cost to be met. Not only that, it disrupts the rest of the class which means other children will also suffer. 

Ultimately, you can’t put a price on experiences that will last a lifetime. School is where children have so many special moments, from taking part in the Christmas play to scoring a winning goal. It’s where they form some of their most enduring friendships, and it’s where they are inspired by great teachers whose influence will stay with them their whole lives. Not being in school means missing out on so much of this. 

I will be watching the experience in Middlesbrough closely to see how mentoring can help us in our battle to get children where they should be, at school getting the excellent education and the wonderful experiences that will set them up for life.

The Northern Echo: Education Secretary Damian Hinds

  • Damian Hinds is the Minister of State for Schools at the Department for Education