NO to scapegoating children and families

for the failure of society and school system

Cracking down on those who need help

The measures in the Schools Bill, including the new government guidance on attendance, is part of an ongoing scapegoating and blaming of children and parents for factors outside of their control.

The guidance does state that support must be given before fines, prosecution or other measures. This is a positive position but as research from organisations Not Fine in School and Square Peg shows the reality for families is that the support offered does not help.


Support is aimed at the child and the family, who are treated as the problem, rather than at addressing the problems experienced within the school environment itself. Parenting courses are a staple ‘support’. And while the guidance does ask schools to look at where they can get help with wider issues such as housing the reality is that many teachers and schools already do what they can to help families under very difficult scenarios. Not only has no new funding nor support been provided but instead that we are looking at escalating need and crisis.
The guidance states that if problems with attendance continue once support has been given then this will likely be considered neglect.

Government figures show that parenting orders made by courts following prosecution are often not implemented because of lack of provision. Of 122 orders not implemented in 2016/17 101 were due to lack of provision, 20 were due to breach by the parent. There is a serious lack of support in the system and it isn’t the fault of children or families.



“The Schools Bill will limit opportunities for learning for young people and children. It is punitive rather than supportive, and risks damaging the life chances of a generation of children who need something different to school.”

Dr Naomi Fisher

“A new approach is needed to recognise that cases of ‘children not in school’ are often indicative of our education, health, and local government systems’ failure to support the needs of individual children.”

Not Fine in School

“Schools are not universally safe spaces. The lack of understanding about historical institutionally racist profiling of Black children and young people is in equal measure frightening and unsurprising. How does criminalising parents support children and young people to attend school?”

No More Exclusions

Analysis from Datalab shows the percentage of school missed at different stages by children with an ECHP and also those children classed as ‘disadvantaged’ at various stages of amounts of school missed. It shows clearly that children who have ECHPs and children who are classed as disadvantaged miss school at higher rates.


Understanding the barriers

Rather than blanket punitive measures and parent blame we need to listen to children and families to understand the very real problems they are grappling with, and take steps to tackle those.

The school environment isn't always safe or supportive

There are a wide range of ways in which children, families and professionals have reported that the school environment does not work for many children.

The focus on earlier formal learning, on testing, the narrow curriculum and zero tolerance behaviour policies are causing emotional harm and, combined with pressure from the Department of Education and Ofsted, are leading to high rates of off rolling and exclusions. There is extensive evidence that the legal, and Department for Education condoned, practice of isolation causes serious psychological and emotional harm. Bullying and sexual abuse are widespread problems experienced by children and young people within the school environment.

There is also extensive and shocking evidence into inhumane and degrading treatment of disabled children and young people in schools. Disabled children and young people are regularly subjected to restraint and to seclusion which inflicts serious physical and psychological damage.

Parent cited in the Square Peg and Not Fine in School response to government’s attendance consultation.“Child was distressed and suicidal due to excessive restraints by school. School refused to stop restraining. They said she needed to learn to do as she was told and restraint was the most effective way of correcting her behaviour in their opinion.”

Bullying and missing school

Bullying is a significant factor in children missing school or in families having to choose to home educate. Research in 2011 found that over 93,000 11-15 year olds were without any educational provision citing bullying as either the primary or secondary reason. (Brown, Clery and Ferguson 2011).

DfE research looking at pupils in year 10 in 2016 found that:

  • A fifth of children bullied daily (6% of all children) had truanted over a year, three times higher than the proportion not bullied. These children were also the most likely to stay off school for the longest periods of time.
  • Daily bullying was a linked factor in parents keeping children off school. 24% of children bullied most days were also most likely to be kept off school by their parents (the study didn’t ask whether this was because of bullying or not).
  • Half of children classed as SEND experienced bullying. One fifth of children classed as SEND experienced violence (threatened or actual) over the year. One third of children classed as SEND was bullied at least once a week.
  • Actual violence was more likely to always take place at school compared to other forms of bullying.

Yet in the focus on improving attendance bullying has been ignored. No anti bullying organisation sits on the Attendance Action Alliance and government funding of anti-bullying initiatives is tiny. Only £4.5 million since 2016 when this research was carried out.

Research by Dr Niamh O’Brien and Anna Dadswell explored lived experiences of children around bullying and self-exclusion from school. Working with young people to understand bullying and self-exclusion from school – ARRO – Anglia Ruskin Research Online While people often treat bullying as just a fact of life there are concrete things which increase its prevalence, such as larger schools.

Vulnerable families and Covid

The Good Law Project sent a letter to Zahawi threatening judicial review unless there was clarification that schools can still allow absence based on medical advice or exceptional reasons.

The emphasis on collective action, and the request for an enforcement push “across the country” is at odds with the earlier, legally correct guidance that schools should consider absence requests “on an individual basis taking into account the specific facts and circumstances, and relevant background context behind the request”. The letter fails to mention that absences can, and in some cases must, be authorised for vulnerable families; indeed it does not acknowledge that vulnerable families exist at all, other than in a clearly inaccurate suggestion that the “physical and mental wellbeing” of the most vulnerable children is invariably best served by their being in school.

One parent, describing herself and her daughter as vulnerable, said they felt “collateral damage” of focusing on “nativities and attendance”. Her daughter’s headteacher cited DfE guidance in a recent letter threatening fines.

The school previously supported her, she said, but was in an “impossible position”. “We’re not school avoiders, but I’m not prepared to risk orphaning my kids.”

“Time and time again we hear that the education system is not working for PDA learners and that home education and alternative provisions are a lifeline for the 7 in 10 PDA children and young people who struggle to access a school environment.

The Schools Bill doesn’t acknowledge this but instead prioritises school attendance over the needs of children and seeks to blame and fine parents and carers when their children cannot attend. This will only create more stress for families already in crisis and doesn’t address why the education system isn’t working for these young people.” 

PDA Society

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This