In May 2018 we devised a simple survey to gather data from parents in our Facebook group, and in other parent support groups on Facebook. Our aim was to create a snapshot of the current situation and illustrate the difficulties parents are experiencing.
The survey was shared on social media for one week and received 1,661 responses during that time.
In May 2018 we shared a brief survey within our social media groups to collect data about the outcomes of complaints made by parents/carers about schools and local authorities.
We aimed to find out whether the current complaint processes are effective and adequate in helping parents/carers to resolve these difficulties. We also aimed to evaluate whether schools and local authorities are correctly following complaints policies and guidance.
It is often very difficult for parents to obtain the medical evidence required to authorise absences quickly, which can mean that they are threatened with being fined and prosecuted for their child's school absence AND their child is left without an education or support.
This survey explores parent's experiences of this situation to help us obtain a clearer picture of the difficulties.
On February 4th 2019 The Children's Commissioner published her report, ‘Skipping School: Invisible Children: How children disappear from England’s schools’.
On the same date, Channel 4 aired the Dispatches edition 'Skipping School - Britain's Invisible Kids' which featured Anne Longfield visiting four families with children who had 'disappeared from school' to discuss their experiences. Anne Longfield used the programme to explain the conclusions she has reached in her report.
Many parents have since expressed their anger and frustration about the focus upon regulation of home education rather than the practice of off-rolling and the difficulties with school attendance that children and young people are experiencing.
We shared this survey with the aim of finding out whether parent's experiences of attendance difficulties, off rolling and opting to home educate a child truly reflect the observations and conclusions made by Anne Longfield.
Our education system gives schools and local authorities a great deal of autonomy to apply rules and regulations and to interpret Department for Education (DfE) guidelines as they see fit. Any complaints to schools and Local Authorities (LA) are generally investigated internally.
In a snapshot survey conducted in May 2018, NFIS members told us: only 5% of parents were satisfied with the outcome of their complaint to a headteacher; 11% were satisfied with the outcome of a complaint to their LA; 36% were satisfied with the outcome of a complaint to the LGO; and only 5% of parents were satisfied with the outcome of a complaint to the DfE. In addition, 56% of parents were accused of being 'unreasonably persistent' in pursuing their complaint, and 31% were referred to Social Services after making their complaint. NFIS is calling for a new independent, transparent & objective body to enable a fair complaints process across the education system. This body must be empowered to monitor practices and investigate complaints fully, with the legal authority to apply consequences if schools or local authorities behave illegally or misinterpret Government guidelines.
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School refusal is usually characterised by off-the-scale anxiety. It can result from any number of underlying issues including bullying, an undiagnosed/ unsupported SEND or a mental health problem. Whilst the underlying issue can present significant challenges in itself, the resulting school refusal leaves families in crisis.
The decision to authorise absence lies with individual schools who are governed by legal duties, attendance targets and Ofsted goals as well as pupils' wellbeing. None of the current 23 attendance codes allows for a holding stage while the cause of school refusal is explored and appropriate support provided.
A new 'holding' code would start to measure the scale of this growing problem. It would ensure a consistent approach across all schools, support children until their problems can be addressed and alleviate families from the threat of prosecution for 'unauthorised' absence.