We must pull back from the threshold at which we find ourselves. The Government’s solution to straight-lace an already problematic response to attendance barriers children and their families face, in criminalising parents, does not solve the problems nor remove the causes of the barriers. We know that the most vulnerable families are at risk of these “cruel & discriminatory” punitive measures, with research showing such prosecutions are a “gendered offence” and mothers disproportionately affected.
Moreover, children with special education needs, disabilities, chronic illness, mental ill health, those who are Looked After, on Free School Meals, recently bereaved, from an ethnic minority or for whom English is not their first language all constitute persistent absentees. Young carers, children who are bullied, living in insecure housing or live in a household with employment insecurity (to name a few) are all disproportionately represented here.
Attendance difficulties is the lens through which all challenges faced by local authorities, schools, health and care providers, children and families can be seen. It is the nexus which spotlights gaps in welfare, local services, health and mental healthcare, housing, employment, transport, social care and of course, education.
WE MUST REPLACE DICKENSIAN TRUANCY LAWS
Proportionate, reasonable, transparent, pragmatic, supportive, caring, productive, personalised, family centred, inclusive systems are required, underpinned by clear, informed, co-designed, co-reviewed and co-produced legislation, regulation and guidance.
Marginalised families deserve to be heard. Experts by experience stakeholders must be consulted, included and embedded in any changes to the lives of children and families, particularly with regards to education.
Please, work with us to ensure further systemic institutional damage and declining outcomes are stemmed, mitigated and improved.
Maintaining good mental health is as fundamental as 5-a-day, 30 mins of exercise a day. We know it is vital that everyone knows ‘it’s ok not to be ok.’ But how does this extend to our children and young people? By prioritising the wellbeing of our children and families as a public health requirement and ensuring mental health in childhood is protected, we are actively preventing health inequalities and poor outcomes in later life.
Introducing a Mental Health Absence Code will achieve several key outcomes:
It is important to consider and include children and families with unidentified and emerging needs, be they welfare related, social care, educational, mental health, physical, psychological, cultural. Often, anxiety and attendance difficulties is the top line behaviour seen by parents and schools. A mental ill health absence code will ensure families are protected from punitive pathways and permit schools to notice a child struggling with emerging mental ill health.
Early intervention, a robust pastoral whole-school framework, prioritising happiness and enjoyment at school, will result in better outcomes - not least attendance and a reduced need for high level CAMHS support. Workforce wellbeing is vital too, and by offering support to teachers and leaders for their wellbeing and mental health, scaffolded with individual supervision for professional support, guidance and practice, the entire wellbeing ecosystem flourishes.
An Attendance Code of Practice mapped, designed and co-produced with organisations such as ours, those with lived experience of barriers to attendance and brings together third sector organisations working across disability, SEN, intersectionality, children & families support as well as education professionals, health and care practitioners and welfare teams. The Attendance Code of Practice would set out the gold-standard replacement offer to criminalising families.
The threat and use of Fixed Penalty Notices and formal prosecution of families without question increases harms and vulnerabilities. It widens inequalities, increases adversity and leaves deep scars.
Criminalising parents does not improve outcomes for the child or their family, nor does it increase attendance. It harms the most vulnerable, increases likelihood of withdrawal, disengagement, anger, resentment, distrust. It weaves intergenerational institutional cycles of harm and has no place in civil society.
a. Replace truancy laws with a compassion-focussed response which focuses on ensuring welfare, social care, disability and SEN / educational support, mental health and appropriate healthcare needs have been assessed and provision is in place.
b. Where it is found a child is at risk of abuse or parental neglect, there are already mechanisms in place to address this via safeguarding and social services.
c. Ensure all efforts to work with the child and their family is a priority and protected standard.
We need the support of as many MPs as possible to bring change to the ways that absence from school is viewed and managed. Will you write to your MP today asking them to pledge their support for the 3 ASKS CAMPAIGN and raise the issues in Parliament?
How do you contact your MP?
The first step is to check who your MP is by using this search tool opposite
Then choose how to contact them:
All MPs can be contacted by post by sending a letter addressed to them at:
House of Commons,
or by email (The MP search tool provides their official email address).
NOTE: Parliamentary rules mean that MPs can only respond to communication from their own constituents, so it is important that you send your letter or email to your own MP.
Explain who you are, summarise your family’s experience of school attendance problems or concerns on behalf of other families if you do not have direct experience yourself.
You could then use the EPIC format to structure the main part of your letter:
E = Engage your MP - You could mention the petition
I am one of over 244,500 people across the UK who have signed this petition to stop the prosecution of families whose children cannot attend school:
P = State the problem - Why are you concerned about the ways that absence from school is managed in schools, and the use of fines & prosecution to address absence from school.
I = Inform the MP about the alternative solution you would like to see implemented - mention the 3 ASKS CAMPAIGN
I am writing to request your support for the 3 Asks proposed by ‘Square Peg’ and ‘Not Fine in School’. Please see the attached document for further details:
[3 ASKS PDF available below to download]
C = Call to Action
I am incredibly concerned about the criminalisation of parents and families. As my elected representative, I am calling on you to do the following:
Rona Epstein, Geraldine Brown, Sarah O'Flynn
Prof Ann John et al. (2022)
Jess Staufenberg & Samantha Booth (Schools Week)
(Channel 4 News)
LEAP / Professor Luke Clements / University of Leeds School of Law
Talking about the current DfE panic around post-covid absence rates and how we can plan to improve attendance through high expectations, rigorous monitoring, understanding, support and sometimes enforcement.