Call for Immediate Action on School Absence Crisis: Centre for Social Justice Responds to New Government Measures

Call for Immediate Action on School Absence Crisis: Centre for Social Justice Responds to New Government Measures

29th February 2024

Media Statement from the Centre for Social Justice

  • School absence remains at crisis levels – severe absence at record levels
  • Fines may perversely incentivise vulnerable families taking kids out of school
  • Statutory guidance and better data welcomed
  • Much more needs to be done to rebuild the parent-school contract

Commenting on the Department for Education’s announcement this morning on measures to address school absence, Beth Prescott, Education Lead at the Centre for Social Justice, said:

“School absence is at crisis levels, wreaking havoc on children’s education and future life chances. Persistent absence remains eye-wateringly high, up 60 per cent on pre-pandemic levels, with one in five children persistently absent. Severe absence has returned to record highs, with 140,000 children being absent from school more than they are present, more than double pre-pandemic levels.  More urgent and accelerated action is needed to tackle the absence crisis and get these children back into school.

“It is good that the new Minister for Schools, Damian Hinds, has finally made attendance guidance statutory and set out plans for better attendance data (both longstanding CSJ recommendations).

“But the government needs to keep a careful watch on the blanket use of fines to punish absenteeism. Our research suggests they can lead to perverse incentives for vulnerable families to pull their children out of school and into home education rather than pay fines. Often, these are the very children who would benefit most from school, and families may find themselves struggling to cope with the demands of delivering a quality home education. New government data, also released today, has shown an increase in the estimated number of children in home education at any point during the 2022/23 academic year, compared to the previous academic year (2021/22). A support-first approach should remain at the centre of any action to improve school attendance.

“Fines, which to date have not prevented the crisis in school absence, will not work unless we address the underlying causes of absence. The contract between families and schools has broken, recent CSJ polling uncovered that almost three in ten parents agree that the pandemic has shown it is not essential for children to attend school every day. Parental engagement must be at the centre of any plan to tackle absence, which is why the CSJ continues to call for a National Parental Participation Strategy, to help schools and parents engage more meaningfully with each other.

“CSJ research shows children can miss school for a variety of reasons, including unmet mental health needs, unmet and undiagnosed special educational needs and a lack of access to basic necessities as a result of financial disadvantage. The government must urgently roll out attendance mentors nationally, to work with schools and families to understand and remove the underlying barriers to absence and get children back into school.

“With one in five children persistently absent and severe absence back to record levels, the government must employ a wide range of tools to turbocharge school attendance and give more children an education that opens doors. Today’s announcement, though a welcome step, leaves much more to do.


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