Absenteeism poll — February 2022

Parents in England strongly oppose fines for term-time absences.

Our poll has found that most respondents disagree with schools or local authorities imposing fines on families for unauthorised absences. While 73% of parents, in general, disagree with the punitive measure, the figure rises to more than nine in 10 (91%) where the parent has a child with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Key findings 

The same poll discovered that almost all parents of children with SEND reported non-Covid barriers to their child attending school regularly — 85% said they experienced barriers and a further 8% said there were no current barriers but there had been previously. Among parents in general, 35% reported existing or previous barriers to attendance. Not only that, but only 28% of parents of children with SEND who experienced such barriers indicated that school had been supportive, compared to 71% who found school unsupportive. Where parents did not have a child with SEND, they were equally likely to find the school supportive as unsupportive (50% for both). This highlights the unique and often acute challenges parents of children with SEND face in receiving the support their family needs to enable their child’s regular school attendance.

The findings come as the Department for Education consults on school attendance, putting forward proposals for implementing a more consistent national framework for interventions including penalty notices for absence. Although parents backed some of the measures such as favouring a requirement on schools to publish an attendance policy (by 56% to 28%), they did not tend to agree that all schools should use the same penalties for unauthorised absences. Parents of children with SEND were especially opposed, with only 20% agreeing with the proposal and more than two thirds (69%) disagreeing. Parents in their position may consider that universal rules would not benefit special schools or mainstream schools with a high percentage of students with SEND.

Our response 

Our Chief Executive, John Jolly says:

Punitive measures such as parental fines should only ever be used as a last resort, when all other interventions have been tried. Parents, who are ultimately responsible for their child, want to be able to make reasonable decisions on behalf of their families. Where this involves term-time absence, they want schools to consider authorising absences on a case-by-case basis. A flexibility for head teachers to judge each appeal on its merits rather than simply apply the letter of the law regardless of parents’ unique situations is what we would like policymakers to consider.

Clearly, this issue is especially acute for those parents whose children have SEND. These parents often deal with considerable barriers to their child attending school regularly. This must be accommodated carefully and sensitively when authoring attendance guidance.

Finally, many families are already struggling with the cost of living, and facing fines for their child’s non-attendance at school will hit some families hard, and is likely to disproportionately affect parents of children with SEND as well as those struggling most to make ends meet. Punitive measures for unauthorised absences are often counterproductive in the long term. Now is the time for an overall rethink on how high attendance rates can be achieved through positive measures that parents can get behind. That result is best achieved by consulting parents, rather than hitting them with fines.”

Our methodology 

362 parents in England answered, out of which 159 were primary, and 203 secondary. 182 indicated that their child had SEND, and 164 said that they did not. The poll opened on 11th February 2022 and closed on 22rd February 2022. It was promoted online and shared through social media.