Parents don't believe children must be in school every day anymore - report

Parents don't believe their children must go to school every day anymore, according to a new report - and it would take a "monumental" effort to change their minds.

Since the COVID pandemic, there has been a "seismic shift" in attitudes to full-time school attendance, according to a study by consultancy Public First.

While the factors behind the absences vary between the cost of living crisis and a rise in mental health problems among young people, the study does not link them to parents working from home.

The research - which highlights findings from focus groups with parents - comes as concerns continue to grow around the rise in children missing school in England.

In June, Sky News saw figures suggesting thousands of children have vanished from school, with authorities having no idea where they are.

On a single day in spring this year, local authorities in England reported an estimated 24,700 children as missing education.

Term time holidays now 'socially acceptable'

The Public First report said a child's daily attendance at school was viewed as "a fundamental element of good parenting" before COVID.

"Post-COVID, parents no longer felt that to be the case, and instead view attending school as one of several - often competing - options or demands on their child on a daily basis, against a backdrop of a more holistic approach to daily life," the report adds.

A significant proportion of parents are taking children on holiday during term time and these breaks are seen as "socially acceptable".

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Researchers spoke with eight focus groups comprised of parents of school-aged children across eight different locations in England in June and July this year.

A mother of two primary-school-aged children from Manchester said: "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 [going to] lie to you, my take on attendance and absence now is like I don't really care anymore. Life's too short."

Meanwhile, one mother of a 15-year-old from Bristol said they used to go skiing in February half-term - but now she wonders why she didn't just opt for a cheaper week in January.

'Persistently absent'

More than a fifth (22.3%) of pupils in England were "persistently absent" in the 2022/23 academic year, meaning they missed at least 10% of their school sessions.

That's according to government figures, which show a significant increase from the pre-pandemic rate of 10.9% in 2018/19.

The report calls for fines for school absences to be "potentially abolished" as it suggests they are failing to change parent behaviour and "undermine" relationships between schools and parents.

Further investment in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) "will significantly improve attendance", the report also argues.

Earlier this month, health leaders such as England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said school attendance can help alleviate issues linked to anxiety among young people.

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'Schools can't tackle crisis alone'

Jaine Stannard, chief executive of School-Home Support, said: "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 that they are taking the hit for the ills of the system. Schools can't tackle the school attendance crisis alone."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said pupil absence is a "big problem".

"We'd stress that this is a minority of parents. Most people do get the importance of education and understand that it isn't possible for a child to learn if they are not actually there in the classroom," he added.

"For some parents, the pandemic has eroded the sense that good attendance is essential and they don't seem to see that absence will damage their child's educational outcomes."