A landmark study launched today found that there has been a profound change in parental attitudes to the idea of full-time school attendance in the years since the Coronavirus pandemic. The joint research project has been carried out by Public First working with a coalition of education charities School-Home Support, Khulisa and Impetus.
Researchers on the project – the first of its kind – undertook focus group conversations with parents across the country, from all types of backgrounds to find out what was driving the sudden drop in attendance. Overall absence 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.
This is a report about a broken system that is failing young people, parents and schools. Parents are crucial partners in improving attendance, without them nothing is possible. These findings are a snapshot, but they give a flavour of frustration and despondency with a system which is underfunded and lacks nuance. Schools are at the sharp end, and it’s unfair, and unwise to allow them to take the hit for the ills of the system.
Schools can’t tackle the school attendance crisis alone.
We need more family support around schools to tackle underlying causes of high absence. If we don’t act now to bridge the gap between home and school, some children will be lost from education for good.
‘The cost of living is not nice at all. It is a struggle to get the kids to school, especially when you’re a lone parent, you’ve got to do it by yourself, you’ve got to find that money just to get them into school. I live about 30 minutes away from her school. So to get her on that bus it is expensive. You would have to talk about £10, £20 or £30 a month, which sometimes I don’t have. Universal Credit, they sometimes pay you monthly. If you don’t have it, you sometimes have to take out a loan and then when the loan comes, it’s lovely but then when you have to pay it back out of your own money. It’s a nightmare.’ Female, SHS Parent, child aged 8.
These words echo the sentiments of countless parents who are finding it increasingly challenging to ensure their children’s regular school attendance. The cost of living crisis, poor housing, increasing transport costs and undiagnosed mental health issues are all barriers to school attendance and attainment, particularly affecting families from less affluent communities.
However, the research shows that parents of all economic backgrounds are frustrated and despondent with a system which is under funded and lacks nuance. Tackling absence isn’t a quick fix. It takes time, trust and understanding.
And, parents are crucial partners in improving attendance. Without them nothing is possible.
‘Pre Covid, I was very much about getting the kids into school, you know, attendance was a big thing. Education was a major thing. After Covid, I’m not gonna lie to you, my take on attendance and absence now is like I don’t really care anymore. Life’s too short. I want them to be educated and I want them to go far in life. But if we’re not getting our help and support from the government and the schooling system, then I’m sorry, I used to back it [school], but post Covid, I don’t now.’ Female, Manchester, children aged 5 and 10.
The need for a sustainable solution to school absenteeism
There is a serious problem with school absence in this country because there isn’t enough family support around schools to tackle barriers to good attendance. Government knows this but has been slow to act. It isn’t fair to leave schools to tackle the school absence issue alone.
This research makes it clear that there is no one size fits all and unless urgent action is taken we risk pushing those who already have worse outcomes even further behind. A disaster for young people now, and storing up huge problems for the future.
This report is a wake-up call for policymakers and the entire education community. It’s a reminder that the future of our children depends on the support and collaboration of all of us.
Anyone who thinks education matters should read this research: Listening to, and learning from, parents in the attendance crisis