Brilliant Learning

Mark Holliday: Working Together to Improve Attendance – Mental Health & Pupil Absence

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re looking at mental health and school attendance, which is timely what with the publication of guidance on the matter earlier this year from the Department for Education (DfE) and new research from Studybugs.

The DfE’s Mental Health Issues Affecting a Pupil’s Attendance: Guidance for Schools very much focuses on a whole school approach to promoting the emotional health and well-being of pupils through your school’s ethos and the importance of creating a calm and supportive environment where pupils feel safe to learn.

Pupils should be able to access support from a trusted adult within the staff team. This could be anyone within the school community the pupil feels most comfortable talking to, and shouldn’t be someone identified for pupils. 

The guidance suggests schools put in place specific plans for pupils whose attendance is affected by mental health. 

A key point to remember is that medical evidence is not necessarily required from parents to support the authorisation of absence due to mental health, except in cases where repeated or long-term absences are occurring. 

New research by the health communication platform, Studybugs, shines a light on a lot of the issues affecting attendance due to mental health-related absences.

Data for 2022-23 shows mental health being cited by parents as the reason for absence has more than doubled since before the pandemic. 

Broken down by type, anxiety is the largest reason for school absence, followed by fatigue (although at a lower rate than the year before) and general mental health. 

Key to addressing any pupil absence, as we know, is to identify the underlying issues affecting regular attendance and early on. 

The Virtual School and Schools & Community Psychology Service (SCPS) are working with a good many schools with training available on EBSA (emotionally-based school avoidance). 

The Education Welfare Service will be holding pupil absence prevention and early intervention webinars for schools early next academic year. We hope these will help schools to learn from each other about the strategies they use to improve attendance. Please look out for dates coming up shortly on S4S.

Also, Wandsworth has produced a helpful mental health map, which can be found on the Family Information Service website: Emotional and Mental Health Services in Wandsworth | Wandsworth Family Information Service

You can find the DfE guidance here: Mental health issues affecting a pupil’s attendance: guidance for schools – GOV.UK (

You can read the full Studybugs report here: Studybugs – Mental Health-Related School Absences: The 2022/23 Report

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