Term-time holidays are “entirely socially acceptable” after Covid, parents have said in a study which raises the alarm about a sharp rise in the number of pupils missing school.
Parents of children across England who have missed school in the past year took part in focus groups over the summer to investigate changing attitudes to school attendance.
The Public First study found that post-Covid, parents no longer felt that ensuring a child’s daily attendance at school was fundamental to good parenting.
Term-time holidays “are now entirely socially acceptable across all socioeconomic groups” the study found.
Almost all parents in the eight focus groups said they were taking term-time holidays, in a “radical shift” in attitudes since the pandemic and teachers’ strikes. Each group had between four and eight participants.
The willingness to go on holiday during term time was evidenced across all socioeconomic groups, with many parents arguing that the cost differences “made the option impossible to ignore”.
‘It’s not that much of a big deal’
Some parents “were clear that this was a new post-Covid phenomenon, and certainly not something that would have been acceptable in previous generations,” the report found.
A mid-ranking professional parent from Bristol with children aged nine and 13 said: “With the strikes and the Covid, unless you do it during exam times, I don’t think people think it’s that much of a big deal. I think pre-Covid, you just stayed within the time of the school and summer holidays [...] but now, post Covid I think kids kind of get back and can catch up. And, with the strikes and stuff, I thought, what [is] one or two or three days to catch up?”
A father from Newcastle from the highest socio-economic class in the study, with children aged eight and nine, said: “I think actually, they’re quite young, and they’re not in a key school year...going abroad and going [on] holiday is actually quite [a good experience] for them. Really, they learn a lot by doing it.”
Parents who take children out of school during term time face a £60 fine. If it is unpaid after 22 days, the fee rises to £120. If the fine is still not paid, the parent can be prosecuted.
A school support worker who helps parents get children to school in east London told the Telegraph: “Even though we will penalise parents, some are quite happy to pay the fine because it’s still cheaper.”
Overall, school absences in England are up by more than 50 per cent since 2019. Some 22.3 per cent of pupils missed at least a 10th of lessons in 2022-23, compared to 10.9 per cent in 2018-19.
The Public First study found that parents across the socioeconomic spectrum “shared the feeling that each individual school day was not valuable”. This was particularly the case for parents of younger pupils and those not taking external exams. Parents also “agreed that every school day could not possibly be that important, given that so much time had been lost to lockdowns and strikes”.
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. Anyone who thinks this will be the kind of problem that can be resolved by pulling one or two policy levers is sadly mistaken.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “For some parents, the pandemic has eroded the sense that good attendance is essential and they don’t seem to get that absence will damage their child’s educational outcomes. It is very sad and the problem is too complex to be solved by fines.
“We need some proper investment in attendance services to help schools so that we have more people knocking on doors and talking to parents face to face to spell out exactly why their child needs to be in school.”
The Department for Education was contacted for comment.