The past three years have significantly affected school attendance across the UK. For a generation that has seen work and life disrupted, does primary school now feel optional for parents in a way it was not perceived before?
The Latest Figures
Overall, the UK has seen alarming attendance figures for children since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is still above pre-covid levels with new trends emerging. According to the latest research, 23.1% of pupil enrolments missed 10% or more of their possible sessions and are therefore identified as persistently absent. By school type, the constant absence rate across the year to date was:
19.2% of state-funded primary schools
39.9% of state-funded special schools
There are legitimate concerns that these figures point to a lasting impact on families. The main factors are children’s mental health and social skills, financial concerns and parents working from home on Fridays. Parents feel that the children can also be at home if they are at home. An issue that is now very much on the government’s radar.
Dame Rachel de Souza told MPs there was “a huge amount” of absence on Fridays – when “mum and dad are at home” – that “wasn’t there before”.
Dame Rachel also told the Commons Education Select Committee that 818,000 of the 1.6 million children who were persistently absent across the autumn and spring terms in 2021/22 were off school for reasons other than illness.
What are schools doing now?
Successful schools tackling these current issues have a couple of things in common; firstly, like safeguarding, they take the approach in school that the issue of attendance is everyone’s issue, not just a designated member of staff. This way, trends in absence can quickly be spotted, interventions put in place to drill down into why these absences are occurring, and some mediation applied. Secondly, these schools also spend considerable time educating parents and other family members on the true impact of absence on social and academic progress; having parents on board and supporting regular attendance is also a key factor. Finally, in an advisory webinar, Ofsted suggested that we need to re-frame the understanding around attendance percentages; on the one hand, schools are communicating that 90% in a test is a fantastic result, but on the other hand, the same percentage does not meet the minimum requirements for attendance. Schools need clear thinking and communication around the differences between parents and other carers and why this is so.
Children need to attend school regularly to have the best life chances, thrive socially, and make sound academic progress. By working together, schools have made headway in combating issues with attendance and educating parents that school is the best place for their children, whether they are working from home or not. We have a lot of work to do to narrow the gaps and support children to attend, enjoy and be a whole part of school life.
There are some habits and mindsets that need to shift. But working together this can be a very possible future.
Juniper Education, as education specialists, are dedicated to providing comprehensive support to primary schools, not only regarding this particular matter but also throughout the entire spectrum of education. In addition, Juniper Education offers a wide range of other courses, including:
- Addressing the gaps in KS1
- Addressing the gaps in KS2
- Adaptive teaching
We also have other resources to support teaching and learning: