The social contract between schools and parents is “profoundly broken” and it will take “a colossal, multi-agency effort” to rebuild it, a new report examining the sudden rise in persistent school absence has found.
Researchers on the project talked to parents from all backgrounds across the country, to find out what was driving the sudden drop in attendance.
Overall absence in state schools is up by more than 50 per cent since 2019 and persistent absence (pupils missing 10 per cent or more of lessons) has more than doubled.
A web post from Public First, the organisation that carried out the research, said that the conclusions of their report “should worry anyone who believes in the importance of education”.
“Parents no longer believe it is their responsibility to ensure their children are in school every day: the idea that every day in school matters has been abandoned by mums and dads”, it said.
Public First said that parents in their focus groups were clear that school closures during the pandemic had “shifted this attitude in an unprecedented way”.
Other factors driving the drop in attendance were found to include:
- The increased willingness among parents to take children on holiday during termtime.
- The rise in mental health problems among young people.
- The cost of living crisis.
- The research did not find any evidence to suggest that working from home was driving the sudden drop in attendance. It also concluded that fines for significant absence were counterproductive.
10 key findings of the report:
- Covid has caused a seismic shift in parental attitudes to school attendance that is going to take a monumental, multi-service effort to change.
- It is no longer the case that every day matters – at least from the perspective of parents.
- There has been a fundamental breakdown in the relationship between schools and parents across the socioeconomic spectrum.
- Parents tend to agree that attendance is important, for other people’s children at least.
- The mental health crisis in young people is a huge, compounding issue around attendance.
- Term-time holidays are now entirely socially acceptable across all socioeconomic groups.
- The cost-of-living crisis is driving more families into poverty, and this is an underlying driver of poor attendance in families from lower and no-income groups.
- Despite popular political and media perception, the increase in parents working from home is not driving the attendance crisis.
- School level attendance systems feel increasingly draconian to families, and yet they are not sufficiently robust or accurate. This undermines the relationship between school and families.
- Sanctions are seen as both irrelevant and antagonistic across all parent groups.
The report also includes eight key recommendations:
- There needs to be a review of how schools and the wider education system communicate with parents and the messaging.
- Fines are deeply unpopular with parents across the social spectrum. The efficacy and implementation of fines should be reviewed and potentially abolished.
- Schools should be supported to provide intensive, nuanced support to families for whom attendance is a significant issue.
- There should be better joined up working and signposting to para-educational agencies including those in mental health; this would ensure that those best placed to offer support were doing so.
- There is an urgent need to improve the accuracy of school-level attendance monitoring systems so that information shared with parents is accurate.
- The Government must highlight the importance of coding attendance to schools – it is impossible to design strategies without this.
- This problem cannot be understood without considering funding. Other strains on education system are manifesting in the attendance crisis – better-funded schools will have better attendance.
- SEND and children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are significant factors in the attendance crisis, investing in these two areas will significantly improve attendance.
The full report is available here.