“This is not the answer” – why the latest government scheme to increase school attendance has enraged parents, and we totally get it

The national initiative aims to enhance school attendance through hubs and a mentor pilot programme

eacher talking to class of primary school children holding up pieces of paper
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A national effort is underway by the Department of Education in a bid to boost school attendance and significantly reduce persistent absenteeism. 

It’s been a big week for UK families as Rishi Sunak announced he’ll be cracking down on the number of kids holidaying during term time and it was announced that new family hubs have opened in 75 authorities to help provide support to parents and young people. Now, in an effort to boost school attendance and support parents, a groundbreaking national drive has been launched by the UK government. Eighteen additional attendance hubs will be established across six regions – increasing the total to 32 – and they aim to assist nearly 2,000 schools in addressing persistent absence. Led by schools with commendable attendance records, they will share practical strategies with other primary, secondary, alternative provision and special schools in England seeking support to improve attendance. 

The initiative – that aims to support one million children and young people across the country – was given a £15 million investment to make further improvements to the government’s progress, as it reports 380,000 fewer children have been persistently absent or not attending school. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “The benefits of our success in raising education standards can only be when all children are in school. Tackling attendance is my number one priority. We want all our children to have the best start in life because we know that attending school is vital to a child’s wellbeing, development, and attainment as well as impact future career success.”

Promoting the new campaign on Instagram, the post shows five slides of different schoolchildren with quotes such as “This morning she was worried about school… but look at her now!” and “This morning he had a tummy ache… but look at him now!”. 

But behind the cheery images of schoolchildren, parents, childcare experts and teachers across England have heavily criticised the campaign, including Sarah Ockwell-Smith, who called the £15m scheme “appalling”. In a post on Instagram, the parenting expert and author of Because I Said So: Why society is childist and how breaking the cycle of discrimination towards children can change the world, implored people to ask why there are record numbers of children disengaging with the education system.

A post shared by Sarah Ockwell-Smith

A photo posted by sarahockwellsmith on

She continued in the caption: “The one ‘why’ I can categorically answer now, is that it’s not the children’s/young people’s fault (nor is it the parents - the other group universally blamed). This campaign is not OK, it is ableist, it is childist, it is ignorant to the emotional well-being needs of young people. As parents, professionals, people, we need to speak up about it.”

Users of the social media platform were quick to comment on Sarah’s post, with other parents sharing their common scenarios. This comment from @twinkledots received over 200 likes: ​​"This morning she was really grumpy and said she felt really poorly, so I took her to the doctors and she had a double ear infection and a chest infection, so I kept her off school for 4 days until the antibiotics made her feel better. Then I had to deal with her crying at the end of term because she didn't get a "special sticker" for 100% attendance whilst her twin did."

Others called the campaign "a joke" and "unfair". The main campaign activity is starting from now until March 2024.

In other school-related news, one in three parents believe the pandemic showed children do not need to go to school every day and if you have a child not settling at school, one mum shares her experience – and what she did.

Daniella Gray
Family News & Wellbeing Writer

From building healthy family relationships to self-care tips for mums and parenting trends - Daniella also covers postnatal workouts and exercises for kids. After gaining a Print Journalism BA Hons degree and NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at Nottingham Trent University, Daniella started writing for Health & Wellbeing and co-hosted the Walk to Wellbeing podcast. She has also written for Stylist, Natural Health, The Sun UK and Fit & Well. In her free time, Daniella loves to travel, try out new fitness classes and cook for family and friends.