If Mum and Dad are at home, why shouldn't I be?

9th December 2011 at 00:00
As unemployment soars, a timely study reveals its effect on truancy

With unemployment rates at their highest levels for 15 years, the recession is causing misery for millions of families.

Now, new research has sparked fears about the impact of the rising tide of jobless on the work of schools. It proves for the first time a clear link between unemployed parents and persistent absence in their children.

Pupils who frequently stay away from school, the analysis by Department for Education officials found, are far more likely to have unemployed parents. Indeed, the statistics are striking: a third of those who miss more than 15 per cent of lessons - the official definition of persistent absence - come from families where the "principal adult or adults" do not have jobs.

Currently, 8.3 per cent of the economically active population (those either working or seeking work) is unemployed. Official statistics in November showed 2.62 million people were without work. This is the highest number since 1996, and experts expect it to reach the symbolic three million mark sometime next year.

This makes the research, A Profile of Pupil Absence in England, all the more timely.

Charities that work in this area are not, however, surprised by its conclusions. Enver Solomon, policy director of the Children's Society, said sudden changes such as parental unemployment have a "big impact" on children.

"They are not immune from shocks, such as parental unemployment, and if children are less happy they are more likely to be potentially unhappy at school," he said. "There's no doubt lower income families will continue to feel the pressure of the recession. Schools are a significant institution for children outside the home and teachers should play a role in identifying those in crisis or difficulty - this is absolutely vital."

Barnardo's deputy chief executive Jane Stacey warned there was a "pressing need" for schools to provide support to children more likely to be persistently absent - and their families.

"A difficult home life is often the root problem behind persistent poor attendance and school exclusions and, unfortunately, authoritarian approaches only tackle the symptoms of poor behaviour and attendance and not the root causes," she said.

These conclusions will ring true with many schools. Joan McVittie, head of Woodside High School in Haringey, north London, where some of the worst rioting took place during the summer, said families "lose structure" when parents no longer have a working day.

"They might stay up later and then sleep in, and the outcome is children also then sleep in because many require an adult to wake them up," she said. "In my experience, if a needy parent is at home they often want children to stay at home with them for company."

There are, it would seem, a vast number of reasons for the link between unemployment and absence. Guy Halley, president of the National Association of Social Workers in Education, suggests another: jobless families are more "resistant" to advice about school attendance. "When schools have targeted these families in particular, attendance levels have improved and this work has been very successful," he said.

But according to the DfE it is up to families to "clamp down" on persistent absence.

"Parents must have a real stake in their child's education and they need to face real consequences if their children continually skip school," a spokeswoman said. "That's why we're reviewing the current range of parental measures to make them more effective and looking at whether we should cut the benefits of those parents whose children constantly play truant."


Children who attend school regularly who come from lone-parent households - 20%

Persistently absent children who come from lone-parent households - 39%

Children who attend school regularly whose parents are cohabiting or married - 80%

Persistently absent children whose parents are cohabiting or married - 60%

Almost two-fifths of persistent absentees live in households with monthly incomes of less than #163;1300 compared to around a fifth of pupils who are not persistently absent 7% of parents of persistently absent children said they did not feel any involvement in their child's school life, compared to 4% whose children attend regularly.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today