Stakeholder perspectives on primary school pupils and sickness absence-exploring opportunities and challenges

E.K. Pijl*, Y.T.M. Vanneste, F.J.M. Feron, J.J.P. Mathijssen, A.E. de Rijk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


School absenteeism and its underlying causes can have negative effects on the cognitive, psychosocial and health development of a child. Research in primary education shows high rates of sickness absence. Many stakeholders are involved in addressing school absenteeism, including primary school professionals, child and youth healthcare physicians, school attendance officers and parents. This study explores these stakeholders' perspectives, their approaches and what they envisage to be necessary in order to improve. It also aims to unveil opportunities and challenges in addressing sickness absence among primary school pupils. Qualitative research was performed with six semi-structured focus group interviews and involving 27 participants from the West-Brabant and Amsterdam regions of the Netherlands. Thematic analysis was used. The overarching theme was aiming for the child's wellbeing. Each focus group interview started with low awareness of sickness absence as a threat to this wellbeing, but awareness grew during the interviews. The participating stakeholders regarded problematic sickness absence as complex due to a wide variety of causes, and felt that each other's expertise was necessary to reduce sickness absence. Schools registered absence, but only occasionally used planned steps; they based the identification of problematic sickness on gut feeling rather than any agreed-upon criteria. To be able to systematically address sickness absence and thus improve the wellbeing of children, stakeholders felt the need for a clearly structured approach, including monitoring of sickness absence of all pupils, identifying problematic absence and promoting collaboration with other stakeholders. An approach should allow for tailoring solutions to the individual child.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1131-1149
Number of pages19
JournalEducational Review
Issue number6
Early online date28 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2023


  • Primary education
  • child health
  • public health
  • school health services
  • school absenteeism
  • sickness absence

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