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Lack of support to tackle school non-attendance leads parents to lose faith in the education system, study shows

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Some parents have “lost all faith” in the education system because of a lack of support to tackle children’s non-attendance from teachers and local authorities, a new study warns.

Experts have called for policies from councils and government to be reformed to take account of the underlying causes when pupils miss lessons, rather than automatically adopting a punitive approach. Parents said the threat or use of prosecution had a negative impact on the situation and children’s mental health.

The study says support for non-attendance needs to be tailored to the individual child because of the complex and individualised nature of the problem.

Parents and carers said a lack of help left them with no other choice but to de-register their child from the school – 7 per cent of parent/carers reported that their child was no longer on the school roll.

Parent/carers also reported feeling blamed for their child’s non-attendance and that staff believed their child was ‘choosing’ not to attend. They said there was no appropriate support because poor parenting was viewed as the cause and the problem was misunderstood.

Those who reported limited communication with school said this led to their child feeling disconnected from school life, which further prevented their full return.

A total of 289 parents and carers were surveyed who had a child or children who had experienced difficulties attending school:

56 per cent of participants reported that their child’s difficulties began during key stage three at secondary school, and 33 per cent of parent/carers reported it started during primary school.
64 per cent of participants reported that their child had been diagnosed with an additional need. Half of the participants had children with autism and half said their child had anxiety.
70 per cent of participants said they had regular contact with school.
A total of 73 of participants reported being in contact with a key person, and 22 per cent reported they were not.

A third of parent/carers believed that support from school staff was ‘not at all’ helpful.
67 per cent of participants believed that support had been helpful in some way with responses ranging from ‘a little’ (23 per cent), ‘to some extent’ (21 per cent), ‘a lot’ (13 per cent), and ‘a great deal’ (10 per cent).
Many parent/carers reported a lack of appropriate support to meet their child’s needs, with 18 per cent saying they had received none.

Several parent/carers noted that during lockdown there was a dramatic improvement in communication with their school.

A total of 76 per cent of participants reported that they believed support from schools could be improved.

The research, by Kerrie Lissack, from the University of Exeter and Christopher Boyle, now at the University of Adelaide, is published in the journal Review of Education.

Dr Lissack said:

“Supporting children who experience attendance difficulties will continue to challenge all those involved because of the complex nature of the problem. By considering the complexities within a holistic, ecological perspective that places the child at the centre of all endeavours and prioritises positive relationships, practitioners are likely to better understand the problem and support families through a potentially very difficult and challenging situation.

“Support from school staff needs to be consistent and predictable. Positive relationships and communication between home and school are significant. Parent/carers want to feel listened to and not blamed during periods of non-attendance, as opposed to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ narrative that some parent/carers reported. Schools should use compassionate and empathetic language when interacting with children and changing the way they label non-attendance.”

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