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Link Between Early Learning Goals in EYFS and Later School Absence – Research

A recent study has revealed that children who fail to meet the Early Learning Goals (ELGs) at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) are more than twice as likely to become persistently absent from school.

The research, conducted by Leeds University’s School of Psychology and the Born in Bradford Centre for Applied Education Research, analysed data from 62,598 children aged five to thirteen in the Bradford district. This alarming correlation suggests the foundations of school absenteeism are established in early childhood, with significant implications for educational and policy frameworks.

Absenteeism in UK schools has become a pressing concern for educators and policymakers alike. Data from the 2022/23 autumn term revealed that nearly a quarter of all pupils missed at least 39 half-day sessions, marking them as ‘persistent absentees’ with attendance below 90%. This growing trend, dubbed by some researchers as a ‘school absence epidemic,’ has far-reaching consequences for both the academic and social development of children.

A recent study spearheaded by researchers at Leeds University and the Born in Bradford Centre delves into the early indicators of this issue. The study focuses on the relationship between achieving Early Learning Goals (ELGs) at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and subsequent school attendance records. The findings underscore the critical importance of early childhood education in predicting and potentially mitigating future absenteeism.

The Scope of the Study

The comprehensive analysis included data from 62,598 children, aged five to thirteen, across the Bradford district. Researchers utilised EYFS Profile assessments, which are administered at the end of the academic year when children turn five. These assessments measure school readiness using a three-point scale (emerging, expected, exceeding) across seven areas of learning and development. Children who score ’emerging’ in any area are considered not ‘school ready.’

Key Findings

The research findings were stark: 67% of persistent absentees, defined as those with attendance below 90%, had not met their ELGs. In contrast, only 33% of children who met their ELGs were persistently absent. These statistics suggest a strong link between early educational achievements and later school attendance patterns.

Implications for School Readiness

The study indicates that school readiness, as measured by the EYFS Profile, can be a crucial predictor of future absenteeism. Lead author Dr Megan Wood highlighted the multifaceted role of schools in fostering academic, emotional, social, and physical development. She stressed that the growing trend of absenteeism, exacerbated by the pandemic, denies children these critical opportunities.

Socioeconomic and Ethnic Factors

The research also delved into the socioeconomic and ethnic dimensions of absenteeism. Socioeconomic status, particularly eligibility for free school meals, emerged as a significant risk factor. Additionally, the study found ethnic disparities, with children of Pakistani heritage showing significantly lower odds of becoming persistent absentees compared to White British children.

Parental Engagement and Underlying Needs

Potential explanations for the link between school readiness and absenteeism include varying levels of parental engagement. Engaged parents tend to better prepare their children for school, fostering a more enthusiastic approach to learning. This engagement often continues throughout the child’s educational journey, contributing to regular attendance.

Conversely, children not meeting ELGs may have unmet underlying needs, such as neurodivergence or mental health issues, making school a challenging environment. Addressing these needs early could be key to improving attendance rates.

Policy and Educational Responses

Co-author Professor Mark Mon-Williams emphasized the long-term implications of school absence for the UK’s future workforce and overall health. He called for early identification of at-risk children and tailored, evidence-based interventions to address the root causes of absenteeism.

The study’s publication in the Royal Society Open Science Journal advocates for a proactive approach to education policy, focusing on early childhood development as a determinant of later academic and social success.

This research highlights the critical role of early childhood education in shaping long-term school attendance patterns. Children who do not meet their Early Learning Goals are significantly more likely to become persistent absentees, with socioeconomic status and parental engagement playing pivotal roles. The findings call for early interventions and a tailored approach to addressing absenteeism, emphasising the need to support children from the outset of their educational journey.

“School is where children develop and flourish, academically, emotionally, socially, and physically. How0ever, as a society, we are edging towards a school absence epidemic.”

– Dr Megan Wood

For educators and policymakers, these findings underscore the importance of early interventions and support systems. Ensuring every child meets their Early Learning Goals can pave the way for better attendance and brighter futures. Let’s work together to address this growing crisis before it’s too late.

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