School attendance: Mental health problems behind absenteeism, pupils say – BBC News


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Screenshot, Figures show that 40% of secondary school pupils in Wales missed, on average, one afternoon a week during the last school year.

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Panic attacks, anxiety and mental health problems are among the reasons given by children avoiding school, following a rise in absenteeism in Wales.

One school principal said teachers are having to resort to driving to students’ homes to try to get them back to their classrooms.

Education Secretary Lynne Neagle said the Welsh Government is funding training for teachers and school staff to meet the mental health needs of pupils.

Liam from Newport, 14, who is neurodivergent and has been prescribed medication for his mental health by a psychiatrist, has been missing long periods of school for several years.

“I never liked going to school. I never wanted to go out every day,” she said.

“It made me feel stressed, anxious, nervous, obligated.”

He has not been in a school setting since 2022, but has had periods of local authority-funded home tutoring as well as specialist support.

Screenshot, Liam, 14, says he feels stressed and anxious about going to school.

“There are a lot of things I want to do in the future and I want to have money to do them, but if I don’t have GCSEs, I don’t think I can get a good enough job with a good salary.”

His parents, who work in the education sector, said they have had to reduce their work hours to be at home with him.

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“There have been very few positive experiences,” said his mother, Abby.

“But when you can find that one staff member who gets it, whether it’s from their own experience or training, they’re like gold dust.”

A Gwynedd student, Elsi (not her name to protect her identity), said she hid under the kitchen table and locked herself in her bedroom because the thought of going to school gave her panic attacks.

He eventually dropped out of school due to social anxiety and mental health difficulties.

Her mother, Fflur (also not her real name), said her daughter cried and had panic attacks before going to school.

“In the worst part, [she] He started biting me, kicking me in the back and crying a lot,” Fflur said.

“Even thinking about going to school would cause a panic attack. The kids, the screaming, the screaming, the running.

“A couple of years later, he started self-harming.”

She said her daughter had suicidal thoughts and was admitted to the hospital twice.

Screenshot, Headteacher Simon Davies said school staff are visiting absent children in their homes.

Persistent absence in Wales is now defined as those missing 10% of school sessions.

In March, secondary school figures showed 40% of pupils had been persistently absent in 2022-23, compared to 17% in 2018-19.

Although recent monthly figures show some improvement, one Swansea school has had to put in place additional plans to try to bring pupils back.

Simon Davies, director of Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bryn Tawe, said: “Year heads with pastoral support officers have gone to the homes.

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“I know that happens at other schools, too.”

Deputy headteacher Mark Bridgens, who is responsible for the school’s welfare, is concerned for the safety of the children.

“Teachers are now becoming mental health specialists,” he said.

“When they’re not in school, you worry. “I think there is a risk of a crisis on the horizon.”

Screenshot, Professor Ann John warns of the lasting impact of missing school on young people

Ann John, professor of public health and psychiatry at Swansea University, warned of the impact poor attendance will have on children’s future prospects.

“If we see attendance as a marker, as a symptom of other problems, if we don’t address them, then we will store them and save them for later,” he said.

Education Secretary Lynne Neagle, who chairs a support task force to try to tackle the problem, said: “It is difficult to find a silver bullet in this area, but supporting mental health in school is a really great part of the solution.

“Every child aged six and over has the right to access school counseling in Wales. We are funding training for teachers and school staff so they can better support pupils and we have our CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] Within reach.”

The Welsh Conservatives’ shadow education minister, Tom Giffard MS, accused the Labor government of having “no plans to tackle rising absenteeism in Wales”.

A Plaid Cymru spokesperson said: “The recommendations of any task force must be carried out urgently, or the Labor Party will continue to fail our children.”

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have been asked to comment.

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