Edinburgh councillor calls for investment in pupil support to avoid 'educational equivalent of Long Covid'

Investment in pupil support is vital in the wake of the pandemic to avoid an educational equivalent of Long Covid, a councillor has said.

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Lib Dem education spokeswoman Louise Young said figures showing an increase in absence rates in nearly all the Capital's high schools between 2018 and 2021 were almost certainly a reflection of the impact of Covid.

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And she said schools had to be supported in providing whatever catch-up assistance pupils needed.

"We need to make sure children are supported so if there is any catching-up to be done we don't see these past couple of years continuing to have an impact three, four, five years down the line because children haven't had what they needed now.

"In the same way as Long Covid affects people's health we need to make sure there's not an educational equivalent for children who have not been supported in catching up with their schooling."

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Tory education spokesman Tim Jones said more teachers should be taken on and the school day extended to ensure pupils could catch up.

"Every child who has fallen behind needs to be identified and a proper catch-up plan devised for each and every one of them,” he said.

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Figures show an increase in absence rates in almost all Edinburgh's high schools between 2018 and 2020.

“That will inevitably mean more resources are needed. The school day needs to be extended so pupils can catch up. I was a teacher and it's simply not possible to catch up during the normal school day. We need more teachers so staff who are already overstretched are not asked to work longer hours."

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The figures show a jump in absence rates among both boys and girls at schools across the city. For example, Boroughmuir High School's absence rate among girls increased from five per cent in 2018 to seven per cent in 2021, while among boys it rose from 5.3 per cent to 6.2 per cent. At Craigroyston High, girls' absences rose from 12.7 per cent to 18.3 per cent and boys' from 10.6 per cent to 16.5 per cent. And at Portobello High, girls' absences increased from 9.7 per cent to 13.5 per cent and boys' from 8.7 per cent to 11.3 per cent.

Education convener Joan Griffiths said: “There’s no doubt the pandemic has affected young people in a variety of ways, including an impact on some pupils’ school attendance. We recognise this, and since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, we’ve implemented a number of measures to minimise disruption to children’s education.

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“In 2020-21 and 21-22 schools employed Closing the Gap teachers to support those pupils particularly affected by the pandemic, focussing on health and wellbeing as well as core skills. Last session each Learning Community employed a Transition Teacher to support targeted young people moving from primary to secondary school. Additional funding from the Scottish Government, given directly to schools, also helped facilitate support like Easter revision classes ahead of the summer SQA examinations.

“While attendance levels are still generally good in Edinburgh, we’re committed to continuously improving this, and earlier this year carried out an Attendance Thematic Review across a number of schools. The results showed that strong relationships between home and school result in higher levels of attendance. Schools often use Pupil Equity Funding money to employ Pupil Support Officers to support young people to attend.”

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