Public First research finds parental support for fulltime schooling has collapsed

There has been a profound breakdown in parental attitudes to the idea of full-time school attendance in the years since the Coronavirus pandemic, a landmark study has found.

Researchers on the project – the first of its kind – undertook focus group conversations with parents across the country, from all types of background 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.

The conclusions of this work 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.

Parents in the 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.

The report has 10 key findings:

  1. Covid has caused a seismic shift in parental attitudes to school attendance that is going to take a monumental, multi-service effort to change.
  2. It is no longer the case that every day matters – at least from the perspective of parents.​
  3. There has been a fundamental breakdown in the relationship between schools and parents across the socioeconomic spectrum.​
  4. Attendance currently has an Other People’s Children (OPC) challenge.​
  5. The mental health crisis in young people is a huge, compounding issue around attendance.
  6. Term-time holidays are now entirely socially acceptable across all socioeconomic groups.
  7. 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. ​
  8. Despite popular political and media perception, the increase in parents working from home is not driving the attendance crisis. ​
  9. 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.​
  10. Sanctions are seen as both irrelevant and antagonistic across all parent group.

The report also includes 8 key recommendations:

  1. There needs to be a review of how schools and the wider education system communicate with parents and the messaging.
  2. Fines are deeply unpopular with parents across the social spectrum. The efficacy and implementation of fines should be reviewed and potentially abolished.
  3. Schools should be supported to provide intensive, nuanced support to families for whom attendance is a significant issue. ​
  4. There should be better joined up working and signposting to para-educational agencies including those in mental health would ensure that those best placed to offer support were doing so.
  5. There is an urgent need to improve the accuracy of school-level attendance monitoring systems so that information shared with parents is accurate.​
  6. The government must highlight the importance of coding attendance to schools – it is impossible to design strategies without this.​
  7. 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. ​
  8. 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.

Full report available here.