The impact of the pandemic on every aspect of education has been much discussed, and the ramifications are increasingly evident and understood.
But one of the most pressing issues, which until now has been largely ignored, is the breakdown in the relationship between schools and parents when it comes to sending children to school every day.
Since 2019, overall absence has rocketed by more than 50 per cent, with persistent absence (students missing 10 per cent or more of lessons) more than doubling.
New groundbreaking research, funded by a trio of charities, School-Home Support, Impetus and Khulisa, sought to understand parental views on sending their children to school every day. This deterioration spans socioeconomic groups and requires immediate attention.
The heartbreaking headline conclusion of this work is that very many parents no longer see it as a priority to ensure their children attend school daily, eroding the long-established belief that every day in school counts.
The research, undertaken by Public First, found the impact of school closures on parental attitudes to compulsory education as a result of the pandemic lockdowns cannot be understated.
But the work also found other factors are contributing to this crisis too.
One significant aspect is the cost-of-living crisis. The financial strain this places on families is also directly impacting attendance, as many children from disadvantaged backgrounds face barriers that hinder their regular school attendance.
Another critical element is the increase in mental health problems among children and young people. The pandemic has exacerbated these issues and parents are grappling with the delicate balance between their child’s mental wellbeing and academic obligations.
We’ve also found an increased willingness among parents to take their children on holiday during term time. The high costs associated with travelling during the school holidays have driven many families to opt for term-time vacations. This practice has been normalised across socioeconomic groups, undermining daily attendance.
However, it’s important to note that the study did not find evidence to support the often-suggested idea that increased numbers of parents working from home post-pandemic was a driving force behind the attendance crisis. Furthermore, the imposition of fines for significant absence was found to be counterproductive and ineffective.
The report offers ways forward to address these pressing concerns. Communication between schools and parents must be reviewed and improved to convey the importance of attendance. The efficacy and implementation of fines should be re-evaluated, and schools should receive support to provide intensive assistance to families struggling with attendance issues.
Better coordination and signposting to external agencies, including those in mental health, should be implemented. Improving the accuracy of school-level attendance monitoring systems is crucial, and the government must emphasise the importance of coding attendance for schools.
Similarly, school funding plays a pivotal role in addressing the attendance crisis, as better-funded schools tend to have better attendance rates.
Investment in special educational needs (SEND) and children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) could also significantly contribute to improving attendance.
The attendance crisis is a complex issue with far-reaching consequences. The study’s findings underscore the urgency of the situation and the need for a concerted effort to bridge the gap between home and school.
Schools need the support of wider society to make participation in education non-negotiable for our children. They cannot tackle this crisis alone. It requires collaboration, support and a holistic approach to address the underlying causes of high absence.
The school attendance crisis is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention and action. The implications of poor attendance are huge for children and young people’s prospects. It affects not only academic achievement but also mental health and overall wellbeing.
The findings of this report highlight the interconnected challenges facing parents, schools, and society as a whole. We must work together to ensure that every child has access to a quality education and the opportunity to thrive. Their futures depend on it.