How COVID-19 changed parents’ views on school attendance

A new report by consultancy Public First reveals that parents do not believe their children must go to school every day anymore, after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the traditional model of education. The report, based on focus groups with parents of school-aged children across England, shows that there has been a “seismic shift” in attitudes to full-time school attendance since the outbreak of the virus.

According to the report, before COVID-19, a child’s daily attendance at school was viewed as “a fundamental element of good parenting”. However, after the pandemic, parents no longer felt that to be the case, and instead viewed 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.

How COVID-19 changed parents’ views on school attendance
How COVID-19 changed parents’ views on school attendance

The report also found that a significant proportion of parents are taking children on holiday during term time and these breaks are seen as “socially acceptable”. One of the reasons for this change is the cost of living crisis that has made travelling during peak seasons unaffordable for many families. Another reason is the rise in mental health problems among young people, which has made parents more aware of the need to balance academic pressure with well-being and happiness.

School violence and bullying also affect parents’ decisions

Another factor that influences parents’ views on school attendance is the prevalence of violence and bullying in schools, including cyberbullying. According to UNESCO, the UN organization for education, science and culture, one in every three students is subject to attacks at least once a month and one in 10, a victim of cyberbullying. The consequences of bullying can have devastating effects on academic achievement, school dropout, and physical and mental health.

UNESCO has declared 5 November as the first International Day against Violence and Bullying at School – Including Cyberbullying, to raise global awareness and put a stop to both problems. The organization has also warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of bullying and cyberbullying, as more students than ever are “living, learning and socializing online”.

Some parents have expressed their concerns about the safety and well-being of their children in school, and have opted for alternative forms of education, such as homeschooling, online learning, or hybrid models. These parents believe that their children can learn better in a more flexible and personalized environment, without the stress and anxiety caused by violence and bullying.

Government figures show a rise in persistent absence

The report by Public First comes as concerns continue to grow around the rise in children missing school in England. According to government figures, more than a fifth (22.3%) of pupils in England were “persistently absent” in the 2022/23 academic year, meaning they missed at least 10% of their school sessions. This is a significant increase from the pre-pandemic rate of 10.9% in 2018/19.

The reasons for the persistent absence vary from illness, self-isolation, family emergencies, to unauthorized holidays, truancy, and disengagement. Some children have also “vanished” from school, with authorities having no idea where they are. On a single day in spring this year, local authorities in England reported an estimated 24,700 children as missing education.

The government has stressed the importance of regular school attendance for children’s education and development, and has introduced measures to enforce attendance and penalize absence. However, the report by Public First suggests that it would take a “monumental” effort to change parents’ minds and restore their confidence in the school system.

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