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  • Writer's pictureEllie Costello

DfE Attendance Consultation

At the end of January, the Department for Education announced a Consultation on Attendance. The Government ran the survey for just 4 weeks, 2 of which coincided with the UK’s schools and families being on half term.

At pace, team Square Peg and Not Fine In School designed and launched a survey of our parents and carers to assess the impact of barriers to school attendance and the system-responses families experienced. We also enquired what worked, what didn’t and what should change.

The survey ran for just 10 days, during which we received almost 2,000 responses from families all over the UK. The findings were stark, with 94% of all respondents reporting school had negatively impacted their child’s mental health and wellbeing. Clear evidence pointed to the harm coercive attendance policies have with parents citing both Local Authority and school responses as escalating needs and exacerbating mental ill health. We are so grateful to every parent and carer who took part – thank you. We submitted our findings and response to the Consultation which was followed up with a meeting with the DfE Attendance team.

Sadly, the DfE stated maintaining the use of fines and prosecutions was a line in the sand and this is something we will continue to campaign against.

We know research has shown criminalising families harms them, increasing disadvantage, vulnerability and adversity. We also know it does not improve outcomes for the young person struggling to attend and facing barriers to school attendance, with criminal procedures being an unnecessarily blunt instrument with negligible merits.

"Too often the institutions of state, the bodies that make up administrative justice, use punitive measures to address what are fundamentally problems of that state. Benefit sanctions are one example, designed into a mechanism that more often punishes than support.

Criminal sanctions such as fines and threats of imprisonment have no place in the state’s duty to provide education. It is noteworthy that the punitive measures to criminalise persistent school absence in England are not used across the UK. In Scotland, for example, fines are not issued for persistent absence.

The researchers in the Prosecuting Parents project argue that it is wrong to criminalise school absence, and that a distinction should be made (as it is in some other European countries, such as Denmark) between social welfare and criminal justice. Truancy, the researchers say, should be a child welfare issue."

We completely agree.

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