When talking to children about their school attendance, what becomes very clear is that children do not exist as individuals, they exist within families. Children and young people spoke of being young carers for parents or siblings, parental conflict, bereavement, family members with illnesses, issues with siblings, and being a parent themselves.
“My mum gets sick quite a lot, normally I walk to school but if my mum is sick my dad has to go to work to get some money, so I need to stay home and look after my mum and little brother.” – Boy, aged 9
What becomes very apparent, is that for children with and without attendance challenges, their lives are shaped and influenced by what is going on in the lives of other people they live with and care about. This could make it hard for some children to attend school, or mean they spent lots of their school day thinking about life at home. This is explained by a young person we spoke to:
“Going to school sometimes can be a bit overwhelming particularly if you have had to deal with quite a lot at home then having to go to school and be on your top game …” – Girl, aged 12, young carer
Children spoke about how their families were a key source of support for them. Many recognised the importance of family, and the work of their parents and carers, in navigating their attendance challenges.
“There were a number of reasons why my attendance improved. First, support from my parents … my mum has motivated me a lot.” – young person
Children also spoke about how attendance policies, particularly parents being fined or taken to court, added stress to what was already a very difficult time for them. This work shows that children’s challenges, including when attendance at school is a struggle, should be considered within the context of their whole family. Our work in the Family Review will seek to further understand how children view their family, and what can be done to better support families.
“Being told that my Mum could be fined or go to prison just made me even more anxious and depressed.” – young person
Our forthcoming report on education attendance is based upon the voices of the children and their families we spoke with. We will outline our ambitions for them – working towards attendance policies as a ‘tool to care’ rather than a threat.