In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cardiff’s educational sphere is witnessing notable transformations, characterized by a surge in home education and a simultaneous increase in fixed-term exclusions, as indicated by recent data from the Cardiff Council.
According to the figures, school attendance in Cardiff is on a gradual upswing, yet to reclaim pre-pandemic levels. During discussions at the children and young people scrutiny committee, council education officer Phil Norton acknowledged the positive trajectory while expressing reservations about the pace of recovery. “The rise is not as swift as anticipated, but it is moving in the right direction,” noted Norton, emphasizing a significant uptick in home education and fixed-term exclusions since the pandemic’s onset.
As of the end of 2022-23, secondary school attendance in Cardiff stands at 88.2%, down from 93.18% in March 2020. Primary school attendance is at 91.7%, a decrease from 94.84% over the same period. Furthermore, fixed-term exclusions per 1,000 pupils have seen a substantial increase, with secondary schools experiencing a surge from 49.88 in 2018-19 to 108.62 in 2022-23. Primary schools have witnessed an escalation from 14.98 to 25.92 during the same period.
Despite the surge in elective home education post-pandemic, Cardiff still falls below the Welsh average in this aspect. Norton acknowledged the challenges, stating, “This is placing considerable strain on school admissions, to say the least.” The council is actively engaging with secondary school leaders to address this issue, stressing the need to prevent a concentration of returning home-educated pupils in schools with available spaces.
Expressing concern over the situation, a committee member remarked, “I would be interested to learn about our progress in encouraging these children to participate in full-time education.” Another committee member added that many schools with available spaces are likely grappling with multiple challenges, compounding the issue.
Norton assured that efforts are underway to distribute responsibility for admissions among schools to avoid burdening those with available spaces. He explained, “If we are not careful, all of those young people returning from elective home education will funnel into the schools with available space, and in many cases, they won’t be fully engaged with education from day one as they would have been if they had been in school.”
The recent surge in home education prompted the Cardiff Council to initiate a campaign to boost school attendance. The council identified various factors contributing to the decline in attendance, including heightened anxiety among pupils, families with a less favorable attitude toward attendance, challenging behaviors, and parental concerns about sending their children back to school.
Cardiff Council’s cabinet member for education emphasized that the challenges faced by schools in Cardiff are not exclusive to the city or Wales but are national issues. In conversations with school leaders, the palpable pressure stems from post-Covid factors and economic challenges. She emphasized, “Part of the next year involves finding ways to support our schools and school leaders and, where possible, addressing root causes within our power to influence.”
As Cardiff navigates the evolving educational landscape, efforts are underway to strike a balance between accommodating the increasing number of home-educated children and addressing the challenges faced by schools in ensuring a smooth return to full-time education for all students. The collaboration between the council, educators, and parents remains pivotal in shaping the future of education in the city.