While sick leave increased during the Covid pandemic for other reasons, such as cold symptoms, the rise in sick leave is nothing new.
According to a report by the Finnish Center for Education Evaluation (FINEEC), there are significant differences between regions in how schools deal with the continued absences of primary school students.
The report noted that prolonged absences rarely start suddenly and problems often develop gradually. Identifying different situations is therefore important to ensure that the right support is in place.
In addition, students sometimes find it difficult to articulate exactly why they find it difficult to go to school and stay there.
The FINEEC survey also found that nearly one in five parents or guardians said they sometimes accept their child’s absence, even if there was no apparent reason for it.
“This may be due to a lack of clarity for guardians about flagging vague reasons and, if an absence is flagged as unauthorized, what the consequences may be. It may be easier for the guardian to look the other way and not too much of a fuss,” said FINEEC’s Senior Evaluation Advisor, Eeva-Liisa Markkanen.
Markkanen added that schools should communicate clearly with families about how they deal with unclear absences and what support they provide.
The report also shows that absenteeism-related remedial or support measures have been taken at different stages in different schools, which can also lead to challenges for some students.
Long-term absenteeism from school is increasing
According to a survey conducted two years ago by the University of Jyväskylä on behalf of the Finnish National Education Council, at least 4,000 high school students in Finland had absences that caused major problems for their education.
While sick leave increased during the Covid pandemic for other reasons, such as cold and flu symptoms, the rise in sick leave is nothing new.
Meanwhile, according to Markkanen, anxiety and depressive disorders are increasingly at the root of absenteeism.
“Even before the pandemic, those who worked in schools recognized that there was an increase in long-term absenteeism,” Markkanen said.
There are no clear national statistics on absences and there is no uniform definition of extended absence.
Developing statistics would be important to gain better information about the prevalence and causes of problematic school absenteeism, and to properly assess ways to reduce it, Markkanen noted.