THERE is a link between the rise in both digital technology and mental health issues with falling rates of school attendance, according to Fife Council.

A bullying toxic culture on social media and gaming all hours are among the factors at play while councillors were also told that kids whose birthdays fall earlier in the calendar year are more likely to be absent from the classroom.

A report presented to the education scrutiny committee said that Fife was below the national average for school attendance at both primary and secondary level.

Gavin Waterston, from education and children’s services at the council, said: "Nationally there's been a decline in school attendance, it first became apparent around 2014.

"At roughly the same time there was a great rise in children and adolescent mental health issues, coupled with the increases of digital technology.

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"There is strong emergent evidence that technology is re-shaping children and young people's lives and affecting relationships.

"We know that relationships are a key driver to school attendance."

Dunfermline Press: Fife Council have drawn a link between digital technology, mental health issues and attendance at school. Fife Council have drawn a link between digital technology, mental health issues and attendance at school. (Image: Newsquest)

As at March 20, school attendance in Fife was 92.1 per cent for primary and 85.6 per cent for secondary, compared to the Scottish averages of 93.2 per cent and 86.8 per cent respectively.

Both nationally and in the Kingdom, the lowest attending year groups are S3 and S4.

There is a legal duty to ensure children are educated but Mr Waterson's report noted a shift in parental attitudes.

He explained: "Since the pandemic there seems to have been a change in the mindset nationally on how important attending school on a daily basis is.

"Home learning during the pandemic might mean that some families feel their children don’t miss much learning by being off."

He said the issues were "complex and wide ranging" and many factors could influence whether a child went to school, but his report said that any type of absence - from truancy and sickness to family holidays - had a negative impact on attainment.

Mr Waterston told the committee they're analysing data and working with families to identify patterns, discover root causes of why youngsters were not going to school and addressing them.

Further research should be completed by February but he gave the committee an insight into their findings so far.

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One surprising snippet was that "pupils who are young in year, for example a birthday in February, have lower attendance in primary school".

He said attendance is "highly seasonal" and tends to get off to a good start at the beginning of term and then drop off, specifically in December, before a rise again at the start of a new term in January.

Kids who are registered for free school meals and young carers have the lowest attendance while Armed Forces children have the highest.

Mr Waterston went on: "We know that young people in our more deprived areas tend to attend school on average less than those in our least deprived areas.

"We also know young people in our least deprived areas are more able to recover from lost learning more quickly.

"Pupils with additional support needs that relate to learning have attendance broadly similar to the overall cohort, however pupils with ASN that relate to family and emotional issues, for example bereavement or parental mental health issues, have a lower attendance."

Cllr Altany Craik said: "I know there's no easy answer but one headteacher told me 'We send letters, we chase them up, we phone them up, we send letters, chase them up ... There is no 'And then what'.

"Ultimately we just go round and round and waste a lot of time and effort and it's not yielding the results we want."

He continued: "The deprivation driver? We know it's there. It's been there forever. We need to focus our spending on tackling the poverty problems and focus on the people who are left behind, whose family lives are chaotic and have difficulties with practical learning."