Services that help schools with pupil attendance have seen their budgets cut by more than a third, new research reveals.
On average, there has been a 39 per cent cut to local authority Education Welfare Service (EWS) budgets across the past five years, according to charity School-Home Support (SHS).
The charity, which works with families to maximise education opportunities, found the average 2015-16 budget for EWS to be £446,641, compared with £732,325 in 2010-11.
The local authority-run service, which was originally launched to help monitor regular absences of children, has become a key link between schools and families.
But as budgets continue to be cut for the EWS, greater focus has been placed on punishing parents for high absence rates with fines. In August, it was revealed that the number of parents being taken to court for their child's truancy rose by a quarter last year.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This service has been a victim of cuts as local authorities have had to reduce their budgets.
“Removing these kinds of links between schools and families could be very short-sighted. There are children, for all kinds of reasons, who do not get the support they need to attend school regularly. It is a very important service.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of headteachers’ union NAHT, added: “A good EWS can really help attendance. These reductions are a good example of how schools will have to pick up the pieces of cuts elsewhere – further stretching their budgets, which we know are already at breaking point."
Jan Tallis, chief executive of SHS, said: “The significant cuts to the EWS we found in our research are a real cause for concern. It is important that schools are able to work constructively with parents so that children get the best out of education.
“We are concerned that this data indicates a rush to using financial penalties to get children into school, which presents the very real risk that children from the most disadvantaged families won't get the support they need to engage with their education.”
For the research, the charity made Freedom of Information Act requests to local authorities about their budget cuts, and received replies from nearly 100.