16th June 2022

How speaking to parents and carers about their children’s attendance illustrates the interconnectedness of family life

As work continues on the Family Review, we are again reflecting on our recent Attendance Audit. This project was a series of deep dives in 10 local authorities to understand the experiences of children who are not attending school or are out of education altogether. In the Audit, the office has heard how children’s family lives can impact on their attendance at school and how their school attendance can have an impact on the whole family.

In this project, in addition to speaking to children, we also spoke with parents and carers of children for whom school attendance was a struggle. We heard about the impact that school attendance has on the whole family – their voices are shared below.

The work shows how being a parent or carer to a child who is struggling to attend school can be extremely difficult. Parents and carers spoke of the challenges of managing the physical, emotional, and educational needs of their child, alongside working with schools and other education professionals to find viable solutions. This work is done in addition to continuing with the usual work of family life, including paid work, and caring for other family members.

Unsurprisingly, parents spoke of the emotional strain that they felt within themselves, but also other members of their family. As one parent said:

“The emotional effect on all of us has been quite extreme … it has made us feel very low …” – parent of an autistic child.

In some cases, these strains could lead to conflict within the family. Parents and carers also spoke of the added stress that the threats of fines and other attendance policies had on them and their children. These further added to stress for the whole family. One parent told us:

“I think the threatening to be fined and unhelpful things being said to my child about me getting into trouble, it wasn’t making any difference, but it did add to the harm” – parent of 2 young people.

A key aim of the Family Review will be to better explore the interconnectedness of individuals within families, to better understand how families can be supported as a unit rather than considered as individuals.

Our recently launched report on school attendance, Voices of England’s Missing Children, is based upon the voices of the children and their families we spoke with. We outlined our ambitions for them – working towards attendance policies as a ‘tool to care’ rather than a threat.