THERE are serious concerns over persistent levels of school absences in Gloucestershire with up to one in four secondary students missing more than 10% of possible sessions.

Education chiefs say the latest report on absences “paints a stark picture” of the way the school system is being viewed by some parents.

They are concerned a culture change is behind the high and persistent levels seen since the coronavirus pandemic.

A report presented to Gloucestershire County Council today (January 18) week shows the percentage of persistent absentee pupils who miss 10% of possible sessions was 15.7 for primary schools in 2022/23.

This figure was 24.7% for secondary school students during the same period and 37.7 for special educational needs pupils.

Philip Haslett, head of education strategy and development, said it is a national issue and Gloucestershire is performing slightly better than its peers. But he stressed “there’s a real need to shift the culture”.

He explained a “multi-agency” group has been set up in the county specifically to look at it which involves Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, the school system and members of the council’s inclusion team.

“Secondary schools are concerned about the absence issues they are seeing consistently across all schools,” he told the children and families scrutiny committee.

“We’ve got good engagement around this but it is a cultural shift that we are really going to have to unpick and work through. That will take some time. This is a relatively stuck issue post pandemic.”

Councillor Tim Harman (C, Lansdown and Park) said the national figures of regular absences are alarming and the local picture is quite concerning.

He asked if applying penalties to parents would be a sensible way to solve the problem.

Mr Haslett said fines are used but some of the issues are linked to mental health and issuing a penalty notice would only exacerbate the problem.

“They are used, but very carefully,” he said.

“We all hear the issue of parents taking children out of school for holiday during term time.

“Those might be examples where schools would initiate penalty notices.”

Councillor Roger Whyborn (LD, Benhall and Up Hatherley) asked if action was being taken early enough to deal with the problem and in particular with the persistent absentees.

Mr Haslett said the school system is engaged and working to deal with the issue but they are seeing a persistent and sustained increase in absences.