The missing link: Restoring the bond between schools and families

The Centre for Social Justice first revealed the crisis in school absence in 2021 and has since led the charge in understanding and offering solutions to getting children back to school.

New polling for the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) by YouGov has found that nearly three in ten parents (28 per cent) surveyed agree that the pandemic has shown it is not essential for children to attend school every day.  Less than 3 in 4 (70 per cent) of parents are confident their child’s needs are being met at school, with confidence dropping to 61 per cent among those with a child in secondary school.

The results of the YouGov poll appear in our new report The Missing Link: Restoring the bond between schools and families.  It explores the relationship between parents and schools, calling on Government to prioritise parental engagement as part of a national effort to curb crisis levels of absence.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, disadvantaged children have found themselves at the sharp end of the attendance crisis, with children in receipt of Free School Meals three times more likely to be severely absent than their more affluent classmates. Given the strong link between attendance and attainment, the absence crisis is compounding disadvantage. It is incumbent upon schools, government and parents to act.

In Spring Term 2023, the absence rate across all state-funded primary, secondary and special schools in England was 7.0 per cent. One in five children were persistently absent, meaning 20.6 per cent children missed 10 per cent or more of their school time, and 140,706 children were severely absent, meaning they missed 50 per cent or more of their schooling.

Higher levels of parental engagement are associated with better outcomes for children – including school attendance – and disadvantaged children are likely to benefit the most.  For some parents, however, the Covid lockdowns appear to have broken the contract of trust between schools and families and it will be very hard to encourage children back to school unless parents are fully bought into their education. A succession of post-pandemic strikes will have done little to rectify perceptions of school as optional, with a cumulative total of 25 million school days lost to industrial action in the 2022/2023 school year.

To better understand what is going on, the Centre for Social Justice commissioned a poll of 1,206 parents of children who are aged between 5-16 and enrolled in primary or secondary school. Fieldwork took place between 15-19th December 2023. The overall sample was weighted to be nationally representative of the target UK population and filtered down to the target audience.

On the back of these findings we recommend seven areas in which government should consider reforms:

  1. Create a National Parental Participation Strategy which includes best practice guidance to help schools and parents to engage more meaningfully with each other.
  2. Roll out attendance mentors nationwide in the immediate term.
  3. Make Department for Education guidance on attendance statutory.
  4. Improve school attendance data metrics.
  5. Recognise the value of relational work through youth clubs and services.
  6. Introduce a Right to Sport in our schools.
  7. Conduct a review into the effectiveness of fines and attendance prosecution.

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