More than 120,000 school pupils in England were reported as persistently absent during the last school year, with Covid and other illnesses the biggest contributors to soaring classroom absence rates compared with pre-pandemic years. Analysis of attendance rates at more than 7,000 state schools in England has found that 14 and 15 year-olds – pupils in years 9 (the year I am in) and 10 – have been worst affected, closely followed by those in year 11.
A sharp drop in school attendance should concern us all. Going to school is directly linked to improved exam performance which in turn leads to further learning opportunities and better job prospects. Going to school helps young people to develop social skills, friendships, cooperative working, career pathways and life skills.
It comes after two years of on and off unnecessary and enforced absence. Even one of the architects of the school closures in Scotland, Dr. Jason Leitch, now admits this may have been a mistake.
Schools temporarily closed in March 2020 and did not reopen fully until April 2021, which led to over a year’s worth of sub-standard education for many pupils. Despite the best efforts of teachers, online learning was especially damaging for children from poorer backgrounds. I was a school student during this time and the closures and disruptions had a huge impact on my learning, which I have already written about in the Daily Sceptic. I was in Year 6 when this started. My SATs were just around the corner, which would determine my attainment level for secondary education, and I was not able to sit them. Instead, I had to sit at home reflecting on how pointless all the revision I had put in was.
When the schools reopened properly, I was starting secondary school and I was initially placed in a class that was well below my abilities. If the schools had not closed and the exams ben cancelled, I would have been placed in the correct class to get the education that I needed. Now in year 9, two years later, I have finally been put in the right group; however, due to being wrongly placed in the previous years, I have knowledge gaps relative to some of my classmates, and I am not the only one.
Our education was further affected by all the regulations that we now know were unnecessary. For example, if somebody in a classroom – which were referred to as ’bubbles’ – tested positive for Covid, the whole class had to evacuate the building and self-isolate for 14 days. There were over 20 pupils in a class and if one person tested positive for Covid, the chances were that many of the other students would test positive. This meant that when we returned from the first two weeks of isolation, we would have to immediately return home for another two weeks. We did have online lessons, but they were a poor substitute for classroom education. Finding out that Matt Hancock rejected advice to cut self-isolation to five days instead of 14 simply to avoid being viewed as having made a mistake was galling. Rather than preventing children from missing school and family members from seeing each other, he wanted to save face and avoid staining his reputation.
Another rule that had a profound impact on my and my classmates’ education when we were permitted to attend school was mask-wearing – enforced even when walking in corridors. Any pupils who failed to meet the expectations were punished and put in isolation where they spent many hours doing nothing. It turns out that the mask mandate in schools was nothing to do with evidence that they worked. Partly, the education trade unions insisted, but also the Westminster Government did not want to be out of step with Scotland where Nicola Sturgeon had imposed them in schools.
People are saying that we are back to normal in schools now; however, we are a long way from it. Pupils use Covid as an excuse to be off school, even though you can still attend if you have it, and many have become accustomed to missing school and staying at home, as shown by the figures quoted above. This is what is really happening, and I hope nothing like it will ever happen again.
Jack Watson is a 14 year-old Hull City fan. You can subscribe to his Substack newsletter, Ten Foot Tigers, here.