School absences in Flintshire linked to mental health issues and county lines drug gangs
Mental health issues and children being exploited by county lines drug gangs are adding to high absence and exclusion rates in Flintshire schools, a report has shown.
Attendance across secondary schools in the county has dipped to below the Welsh average since 2016, while the number of exclusions has also risen notably.
In late 2019, education watchdog Estyn highlighted the need to improve attendance and reduce levels of exclusion in the area.
Flintshire Council has since been working to address the issues, although the Covid-19 pandemic has made measuring and comparing data more difficult.
Attendance figures for the first two terms of the 2019/20 school year, before the outbreak began, were recorded as being lower than the previous year at 93.2 per cent for primary schools and 91.6 for secondary establishments.
A report to members of the local authority’s education, youth and culture scrutiny committee shows mental health issues were the main cause in secondary schools
Claire Homard, the council’s chief education officer, said she believed the disruption caused by the pandemic could make the issue worse.
In the document, she said: “The main factor impacting on attendance continues to be illness.
“Across the secondary sector, there has been increasing levels of absence being attributed to mental illness.
“The sustained lockdown period has resulted in loss of routine as a consequence of school closure or due to restricted opening.
“This could further affect pupil wellbeing adversely until normal timetables are re-established.
“The council has a number of services which support children and young people with mental health needs and further work needs to be undertaken with local health services to ensure that the range of support available can respond appropriately to this increasing need.
“Welsh Government have indicated that additional funding will be made available to local authorities in the next financial year to enhance their own provision to support this area of need.”
The number of permanent exclusions across all Flintshire schools dropped slightly from 27 in 2018/19 to 20 in 2019/20.
But Mrs Homard said this could mostly be attributed to schools having to close in March because of the coronavirus.
She added that so-called “county lines” drugs gangs, who exploit children into carrying out illegal activity on their behalf, were causing problems in addressing exclusion rates.
She said: “The level of fixed term and permanent exclusion across our schools had generally been increasing, with the main reasons cited for exclusion being physical assault against a pupil, verbal/threatening behaviour against an adult, persistent and disruptive behaviour and “other”.
“As with attendance, central services work in partnership with individuals, schools and families to offer support and intervention to prevent exclusion.
“The increasing complexity of need and wider contributing factors such as county lines continues to make this increasingly difficult.
“Levels of exclusion in 2019/20 have reduced overall but much of this can be attributed to the lengthy school closure as a result of the initial lockdown.”
The report will be discussed by councillors at a virtual meeting being held tomorrow.