This is an editorial from the city council's cabinet member for leisure and parks Chewe Munkonge. 

It’s been quite a few years, but I still remember that feeling of the seemingly endless summer coming to an end and next week being ‘Back to School’.

I’m sure many readers will remember that mixture of emotions: nervousness about new teachers and new subjects; excitement about seeing old friends and making new ones; and, perhaps, relief at returning to a familiar structure and routine.

Oxford Mail: Children at Youth Ambition eventChildren at Youth Ambition event (Image: Oxford City Council)

Well, next week is back to school week and, as Oxford City Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, I wanted to highlight just how important it is that every parent helps their child overcome those start-of-term nerves and ensures they’re at the school gate on Monday morning.

Those first days back in school really matter.

Evidence from a recent Children’s Commissioner report showed that children who miss days two, three and four of the new term for unauthorised reasons were likely to then be absent for nearly half of the term.

School absence almost always translates into poorer academic results, greater isolation and a cycle of increasing stress for children and parents alike.

Rates of absence from school remains higher across the country than before the Covid-19 pandemic and, here in Oxford and across Oxfordshire, absence rates are higher than the national average.

Oxford Mail: Chewe MunkongeChewe Munkonge (Image: Oxford City Council)

We know that many children and young people are struggling with anxiety and other mental health issues at the moment, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sadly, persistent school absence levels among children with social, emotional and mental health needs are at 43 per cent.

To help support young people during the summer holidays, the city council’s Youth Ambition team has been organising a wide range of activities – from swimming, ice skating and field trips, to cooking, photography and dance sessions.

The city council also funded activities from partner organisations such as Pegasus Theatre and Donnington Doorstep.

Taken together, the summer holiday activities helped put fun and structure into the lives of hundreds of six-to-19 year olds across Oxford this summer, with a particular focus on building confidence, structure and support ready for the new school term.

I know that Oxford’s schools are preparing for the warmest possible welcome for all children and families next week, including those who may have struggled with attendance in the past, but our Youth Ambition team also stands ready – with year-round youth clubs, activities and fun – to provide additional support for young people across the city.

If you or your child needs help, please reach out.

Together, we can help all Oxford’s children take that plunge back into school life next Monday.