Reducing Persistent Absence in Neurodivergent Learners

On Saturday, the 9th of September 2021, education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi made a speech to leaders in which he pledged to “get to the root cause of persistent absence “.

Persistent absence (PA) is the phrase, which the DFE uses to describe absence ,which is problematic. It does not include absence due to illness or medical appointment

s, but usually does include absences due to school-based anxiety, truancy, and exclusion. These types of absence are sometimes also called ‘problematic PA’ (see editors notes). The figures have been increasing for several years. In 2019 approximately one in 11 students were put into this category (see editors notes). Since the recent lockdowns due to the Covid 19 pandemic, however, this figure has increased to around one and 10 students (see editors notes). Whilst it is helpful that the education se

cretary recognises the importance of this increasing problem has yet to outline how he will be going about tackling this.

Catrina Lowri is the founder of Neuroteachers, an organisation which works with schools and families to develop teacher training and intensive support packages to reduce incidences of PA. Catrina, who is a neurodivergent (ND) teacher herself, specialises in supporting autistic and other ND learners. She has been highly successful at improving attendance for such learners and has recently carried out a self-funded research project, which, has enabled her to spot common barriers to attendance. This has helped her to hone her skills and pass them on to other teachers. Since the pandemic the demand for her services has risen substantially. She wants schools to know that they are not alone. The numbers of learners who find it difficult to attend school, due to anxiety and mental health issue

s is increasing all over England.

“Before the pandemic there were over 77,000 children regularly

persistently absent from school. According to the DFE’s own figures around 40% of those were autistic or had other neurodiverse needs. So, it’s a massive problem. Schools come to me because they are desperate for support, as they really want their students to return to school, which is where they are safest.’ (see editors notes)

A paper written in 2020 by Totsika et al on this topic ( see editors notes) states that children with poor attendance are at higher risk of social factors such as addiction, self-harm and mental health difficulties. In fact, school is a protective factor for several social

economic issues such as unemployment and deprivation.

The good news however, is that Catrina’s training is making a real difference.

As Anna, a teacher from Cardiff put it,” Once you realise that you should look at the child’s needs holistically, and not just concentrate on their neurodiversity, and that you need to be child-centred, the problem becomes a whole lot simpler. I’m hugely grateful to Catrina at Neuroteachers for her work in this field.”

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