A significant proportion of parents are taking their children out of school for term-time holidays post-Covid, suggests a report that says it has become “socially acceptable”.
The study by consultancy Public First found that the pandemic had caused a “seismic shift” in parental attitudes with parents no longer believing their children must be in school every day.
Government figures show more than a fifth of pupils in England were “persistently absent” – meaning they missed at least 10 per cent of their school sessions – in the 2022/23 academic year. This was significantly higher than the pre-pandemic rate of 11 per cent in 2018/19.
“Pre-Covid, ensuring your child’s daily attendance at school was seen as a fundamental element of good parenting,” said the report.
“Post-Covid, parents no longer felt that to be the case, and instead view attending school as one of several – often competing – options or demands on their child on a daily basis, against a backdrop of a more holistic approach to daily life.”
The study – which took its findings from focus groups with parents – comes amid mounting concerns about the rise in children missing school in England, including from education secretary Gillian Keegan.
It found absences were down to a number of factors including the rise in mental health and the cost of living crisis. However, it did not find any evidence to suggest that the rise in parents working from home since Covid-19 has encouraged more children to stay off school.
A mother of two primary school children from Manchester said: “Pre-Covid, I was very much about getting the kids into school, you know, attendance was a big thing. Education was a major thing.
“After Covid, I’m not gonna lie to you, my take on attendance and absence now is like I don’t really care anymore. Life’s too short.”
A mother of a 15-year-old from Bristol said: “We always took them skiing in February half term to try and comply. Now I look back and I think why on earth did I do that? Why didn’t I just take them out for a cheap week in January?”
Ed Dorrell, partner at Public First, said: “Our project’s findings signpost a deeply troubling issue that will take many years, a lot of hard work and substantive investment to resolve.”
The report called for fines for school absences to be reviewed and “potentially abolished” as it suggested they were failing to change parent behaviour and they “undermined” the relationships between schools and parents.
Earlier this month, health leaders – including England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty – said being in school can help alleviate issues linked to mild or moderate anxiety among young people.
Jaine Stannard, chief executive of charity School-Home Support, said: ““Schools are at the sharp end, and it’s unfair that they are taking the hit for the ills of the system. Schools can’t tackle the school attendance crisis alone.”