Since Covid, persistent absenteeism from school has increased. To tackle this problem a new form of school has been introduced, but at £4,000 a term, Lucy Rycroft wonders how accessible it really is.


Source: Photo by sean Kong on Unsplash

From September 2024, there will be a number of ‘hybrid’ schools set up across the UK, designed for children and teenagers who are not able to access mainstream school.

Set up by Duke’s Education, a family of nurseries, schools, and colleges in the UK, hybrid schools will consist of online lessons and independent study times for most of the week, with one day designated as an ‘in-person’ school day, for practical subjects, sports and socialising.

The rate of persistent absenteeism from UK schools has increased hugely since Covid, as levels of depression and anxiety amongst young people have risen. Finding a way back into education for these children now could greatly reduce the possibility of unemployment, poverty and further mental health issues in adulthood – problems which impact the whole of society, not just individuals.

The rate of persistent absenteeism from UK schools has increased hugely since Covid

So the news of these hybrid schools – an innovative approach to specifically tackle the problem of absenteeism – should come as welcome relief to anyone concerned for this rising generation.

One niggle remains, though, and it is this: will hybrid schools be accessible to all students, regardless of background? No scholarships or bursaries have yet been confirmed, making the current model only available to those who can afford £4,000 a term.

Your response might be: “Well, £4,000 is a lot of money, but it would be worth it for your child’s well-being” – and therein lies the problem: you (and I, and those who dream up ideas like this one) are probably reasonably affluent.

Even if you don’t feel it, even if that sum would involve borrowing from grandparents or even re-mortgaging your home, if that sum doesn’t feel completely hopeless to you, then you are not facing the financial hardship of an increasing majority of families in the UK.

In short, the idea is only a reality at the moment for those with cash (or the ability to source it), private transport (with just 25 schools nationwide, long commutes will be common), enough literacy to complete the paperwork, enough motivation to find out about the option in the first place, and – a factor often overlooked – enough acknowledgment of education’s value to actually believe it’s important for your child to be in school.

In short, the idea is only a reality at the moment for those with cash

This should matter to us as Christians, because it matters to God. Proverbs 31:8-9 urges us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Jesus spent the majority of his time and energy with the ‘poor and needy’ – not because they were more loved by God, or more in need of His saving grace, but because there were potentially more obstacles preventing them from coming into relationship with their Heavenly Father.

Likewise, there are many obstacles preventing the most vulnerable children from accessing education. The hybrid school model might successfully remove the obstacle of social anxiety, for example, but it will need to also tackle the obstacles of funding, privilege and location if it is to fulfil its aim.

As Christians, we are compelled in every decision, strategy or policy, to consider first the most vulnerable. In the case of education, this looks like listening to, and understanding the needs of, those who are struggling the most, so that we can use our money, power and position to make real and lasting change.

When we adopt this ‘bottom-up’ approach – writing social policy which helps the most deprived first – everyone benefits. What is good for the poor is usually good for the rich too.

Hybrid schools are an exciting initiative, and I look forward to seeing how they progress. But I would caution that unless the project moves forward with a focus first on the most marginalised of the large and diverse group we call ‘persistent absentees’, it will only benefit a small handful of young people, and not bring about the inclusion that, after all, is at the heart of its vision