Schools could send more personalised text messages to parents of absent pupils to help tackle the national truancy “crisis”, a social mobility expert has said.
Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, warned that some families have “lost their belief that attending school regularly is necessary” for their children since the pandemic.
The development of effective engagement plans with parents could be a “game-changer” for encouraging more children to attend class, he said.
MPs on the Commons Education Select Committee have launched an inquiry to look at possible solutions to the growing issue of persistent absenteeism.
In a submission to the inquiry, Prof Elliot Major and Andy Eyles, from University College London (UCL), suggest that 40% of secondary pupils in England who qualified for free school meals were persistently absent during the 2021/22 autumn term – a rise from the pre-pandemic levels.
Persistently absent pupils are “likely to lose two to three months of learning” over the course of an academic year, they estimated.
More use of personalised messages and texts to parents by school staff could be an effective way of improving attendance “once deeper relationships have been developed” between schools and families, according to the researchers.
Prof Elliot Major said: “Persistent absenteeism is a national crisis and threatens to damage the education prospects of a whole generation of children.
“The reasons why so many children have not returned to school is varied and complex, but most troubling of all, some families appear to have lost their belief that attending school regularly is necessary for their children.
“I’m convinced that developing school-parent engagement plans would be a potential game-changer encouraging more children to attend school and enabling them to be better prepared to learn in classrooms.”
A research programme aimed at developing evidence-informed approaches for schools to engage with parents might help improve relationships with disengaged families and improve attendance, the researchers added.
“School leaders already work very hard to maintain high rates of attendance, as it is so crucial to getting good outcomes, but face a number of challenges in doing so.
“The impact of the pandemic, which reduced engagement with learning and broke down routines, is still being felt. Persistently absent pupils often have mental health issues which may have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”
He added: “Any strategies to improve attendance must be carefully considered, particularly the financial cost to schools and the impact on staff workload.
“In reality, this is not a problem schools can solve on their own. They require the support of parents, local authorities, and investment from central government.”