School attendance in Cardiff improves but remains below pre-pandemic levels, reveals council data
School attendance in Cardiff is improving but is yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to council statistics.
The data, presented to Cardiff Council’s children and young people scrutiny committee as part of a discussion around the post-pandemic recovery of schools in the city, also showed that there have been significant increases in pupils being educated at home since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking at the meeting on Tuesday, December 5, council education officer Phil Norton also said there has been a significant number of fixed-term exclusions since the pandemic.
Commenting on attendance, Mr Norton said: “It is not rising quite as quickly as we would have liked it, but it is going in the right direction.”
Attendance at the end of 2022-23 was at 88.2% for secondary schools in Cardiff and 91.7% for primary schools, compared to 93.18% and 94.84% respectively in March 2020.
Although noting the sharp increase in exclusions, Mr Norton added the situation “might be going in the right direction” based on data relating to exclusions following the autumn term.
Fixed-term exclusions per 1,000 pupils across Cardiff secondary schools went from 49.88 in 2018-19 to 108.62 in 2022-23.
During the same period, fixed-term exclusions per 1,000 pupils at primary schools in the city went from 14.98 to 25.92.
Following the autumn term, there were 15.9 fixed-term exclusions per 1,000 pupils at secondary schools and 1.8 in primary schools.
Despite the increase in elective home education in Cardiff following the Covid-19 pandemic, the city is still below the Welsh average on this front.
Mr Norton said this is “hugely challenging” post-pandemic with a number of parents deciding to put their children back in a school setting.
He added: “That is putting a bit of strain on school admissions to say the least.”
He said the council is meeting with secondary school headteachers this week to discuss, among a number of issues, how to approach this particular challenge around children returning from home education.
Mr Norton said: “If we are not careful, all of those young people coming back from elective home education will go into the schools that have got space and in a number of those cases, they… won’t be engaged with education from day one as if they would have been if they’d been in school.”
Cllr Elaine Simmons called the situation “very worrying” at Tuesday’s scrutiny committee meeting.
She said: “In March I would be interested as well as everything else to find out how we are progressing and encouraging these children to take part in full-time education.”
Another member of the scrutiny committee, Cllr Robert Hopkins, noted a lot of the schools which have spaces are likely going to be ones that “already face multiple challenges” and this could add to them.
Mr Norton said schools will try to share the responsibility for admissions in relation to pupils returning from home education so they “won’t all funnel into the schools that have got spaces”.
He added: “I will be pushing for that to go in that direction.”
Cardiff Council launched a campaign to boost school attendance in September.
At the time, the local authority said there are a number of reasons why attendance has seen a decrease since before the pandemic, including an increase in anxiety among pupils, families with a poor attitude to attendance, more challenging behaviours and parents feeling overly cautious about sending their children back to school.
Cardiff Council’s cabinet member for education, Cllr Sarah Merry, said: “I don’t think any of the issues that we have come across are unique to Cardiff or Wales. They are UK, national issues.
“In conversations with school leaders, you can feel the pressure that they are under, whether that is down to factors leading on from Covid or whether it is linked perhaps to some of the economic issues that we have had over the past few years, or probably more likely a combination of the two.”
Commenting on some of the main issues raised by school leaders around attendance and behaviour, Cllr Merry added: “I think that makes quite a challenging environment for teachers and school leaders and it really piles the pressure on I think for them.
“I suppose part of the next year… is continuing to find ways of supporting our schools and our school leaders and where possible to actually address some of those root causes where they are within our power to actually influence them.”
Spotted something? Got a story? Email News@News.Wales