Analysis

The key reasons behind falling Scottish school attendance - and why help is long overdue

Time to look at the reasons behind a series of alarming trends

There has been no shortage of negativity in the discourse relating to Scotland’s youngsters in recent years.

Shocking footage of assaults regularly emerge as concerns grow over a dramatic deterioration in behaviour, while bullying has become a 24-hour-a-day ordeal for victims due to social media. Many youngsters, meanwhile, seem to consider school attendance as optional now.

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These alarming trends often hit the headlines, but the reasons receive less focus. Yes, many blame school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic, but its impact is complex.

Whatever the necessity of actions taken during the crisis in 2020 and 2021, it must be remembered the psychological consequences of being bombarded daily with dire warnings about a deadly virus were severe for many adults, let alone the younger generations who were also listening and watching.

And with a looming climate catastrophe, and brutal wars in Ukraine and Gaza, feelings of dread might not have disappeared with the Covid vaccine.

The closure of schools during the pandemic also caused delays to the development of children’s speech and social skills, resulting in frustration and tensions which manifest in aggressive outbursts or a desire to stay away from peers.

The pandemic, of course, was almost immediately followed by a cost-of-living crisis, which has left even more young people going without the basics. Those struggling may seek help, but often find long waiting lists for mental health services.

Indeed, there are about 400 educational psychologists in Scotland, for 705,528 pupils. Against such a backdrop, initiatives such as The Haven in Tranent are playing a vital role in providing badly-needed support for young people, and could offer a model that can be replicated elsewhere.

Of course, it can be argued it should not be left to charities to plug gaps in public services, or that more could be done to tackle some of the root causes, such as poverty.

But until those battles can be won, schemes like The Haven would appear to be making a significant difference in the lives of a growing number of young people, from a generation that is long overdue some positive interventions.

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