Khulisa responds to inquiry into severe absences

With support from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Khulisa has recently responded to an inquiry by the Education Committee into the issue of persistent and severe absence.

We discussed the factors causing severe absences, as well as the potential effect of the Department for Education’s proposed reforms on attendance.

A large proportion of the students Khulisa works with are persistently absent due to their struggle to engage in school. This is often caused by a range of anxiety, mental health, adverse childhood experiences and wellbeing issues that many of our participants have. 

All of these factors have a significant impact on attendance and without the right support, the unmet needs of these children will result in more challenging behaviour in school, and more absences from school, that lead to a lifetime of unfulfilled potential.

The pandemic has only exacerbated many of the wellbeing challenges young people were experiencing, and we are now noticing an increased number of young people who are referred to us as being persistent school refusers. 

Whilst we welcome some of the reforms proposed by the Department of Education, we also believe that more could be done to support those young people struggling with severe absence.


  • Increased investment through the £40 million for Education Investment Areas
  • The introduction of thirteen attendance advisors
  • A commitment to be led by the evidence through their work with the Education Endowment Fund

Areas for improvement:

  • While any funding to help tackle the issue of persistent-absence is welcome, we are not much has been said about how the money will be allocated
  • 13 attendance advisers is too small a number to fully understand and respond to the scale of the problem we’re seeing in the case of persistent absence
  • The Education Endowment Fund found that the most effective interventions in improving attendance were through supporting parents, but we haven’t seen much from the government on what they would do to support this
  • Fines create a burden on struggling families, exacerbating existing socio-economic inequalities - persistently absent children are overwhelmingly likely to be those with SEND, those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who have social, emotional and mental health needs

In short, we believe that many of the proposed reforms take a surface-level response to persistent absence. Understanding the scale of the problem is important. But it’s the lack of anything substantive sitting behind the attendance guidance and real-time data that is concerning.

There also seems to be an overwhelming focus on developing consistent guidelines, but blanket approaches risk targeting the most vulnerable children. Sanctions made without engaging with young people to understand why they are acting the way they are, only exclude and further trigger a young person in distress, furthering the cycle of disruptive or internalised behaviour that leads to exclusion or persistent absence.

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