The health benefits of school attendance

17 February 2022

General practitioners know about the benefits that regular attendance at school has for children – not just for their scholastic education but also for their mental and social health. We know that regular school attendance is one of the best ways of protecting a child’s mental and physical health and laying down strong foundations for their long-term wellbeing. Even before the pandemic though, levels of persistent absence (where a child misses more than 10% of sessions) had increased in secondary schools, and this has only worsened with the fear and disruption caused by covid. As your President I am representing the College on the Education Secretary’s Attendance Action Alliance. This is a group of national sector leaders from education, social care, health and beyond who have pledged to work together to tackle the underlying causes of school absence. My pledge, on your behalf is to spread the word about the importance of school and the crucial role GPs play in providing reassurance to children during these post covid times.

The most up-to-date evidence suggests that children and young people – including those children previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable - face a very low risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

So, my top three asks are:

  1. Only suggest taking time off school where necessary – and make sure any absence does not become protracted.
  2. Remind ourselves that many schools have Mental Health Support Teams and the range of self-help resources and organisations here
  3. Make it our practice policy to try and schedule routine appointments outside of school hours wherever possible

Parents and carers should be encouraged to speak to school staff about any worries their child may have. In many cases, a meeting with a familiar teacher or staff member will help to reassure children and young people, and their families, about their concerns.

I am pleased that the Department for Education is supporting work to reduce GP workload and has issued guidance to schools that they should not ask parents to seek doctor’s notes to authorise illness.

Finally, through my work with the Department for Education I have seen how much appreciation there is for the work we do as GPs, and a real desire to strengthen partnerships between schools, GPs, healthcare professionals and the child and their family, to support children to remain in school, which I truly believe is the best place for them.

Post written by Dame Clare Gerada, College President

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