A new report published by Estyn shows that attendance in secondary schools has declined since the Covid-19 pandemic and has been slow to improve.

Pupils who are eligible for Free School Meals (eFSM) have lower rates of attendance than pupils who are not eligible for FSM, the study released today, finds.

The number of pupils who are persistently absent has increased substantially.

The report finds that schools have responded to these challenges by increasing their support for pupil well-being and putting measures into place to improve attendance such as rigorous monitoring and analysis of attendance rates. However, overall attendance has not improved at a fast enough rate.

Schools which have been the most effective have a strong culture of high expectations regarding attendance, make effective us of data, focus on high quality teaching and effectively evaluate the impact of their work.

Owen Evans, Chief Inspector says: "Attendance rates in secondary schools are a cause for concern; when pupils are not in school, they are not learning, and the data reported equates to too many pupils having at least one day off per fortnight.

"Absence holds back many learners, particularly those living in poverty where non-attendance among pupils eligible for Free School Meals is a notable concern.

"While most schools understand the importance of improving pupils’ attendance, in some schools, work to improve attendance has not had enough impact.

"Schools that are successful in improving attendance target resources carefully, monitor attendance with rigorous use of data, work with families, and set high expectations of pupils.

"Schools, local authorities and Welsh Government all have their role to play in improving attendance and should carefully consider the recommendations in the report."

The report considers a range of barriers that schools face when tackling poor attendance, including how parents view the importance of good attendance, increasing costs associated with school transport, and the lack of dedicated Welsh Government funding to improve attendance.

The report also finds that during the past 12 months, schools have begun to make more timely and targeted use of warning notices and fixed penalty notices.

School leaders reported that, although a last resort, warning notices had had a positive impact in a few cases to improve attendance.

However, for pupils who were persistently absent these did not always bring about the desired improvements rapidly enough.

Alan Edwards, author of the report, added: "It’s clear that although schools have an important role in improving attendance, they cannot tackle this issue alone.

"Improving attendance will require a cross-service approach alongside support from the Welsh Government.

"This includes reviewing the three-mile limit to free transport which particularly impacts pupils from lower-income families and how those not eligible for free school transport can be better supported to attend school.

"We also recommend that Welsh Government should consider how the funding that is available to schools can best help to build capacity and support staff to improve attendance.

"We have also recommended that Welsh Government develop a national campaign to improve parental and carer perception of the importance of attending school."