ASCL president urges ‘change of tone’ as parental disputes drive absence

Politicians and commentators 'far too quick to take potshots at schools', says trust CEO John Camp

Politicians and commentators 'far too quick to take potshots at schools', says trust CEO John Camp

Ofsted said schools still faced the challenge of parents keeping children off school 'unnecessarily' due to Covid 'proximity'

A “change of tone” in the national conversation about education is needed, the ASCL president will warn this morning, as almost half of leaders reported they had seen pupil absence because of disputes with parents.

John Camp, the chief executive of the Compass Partnership of Schools, will describe the findings as an “extreme – but apparently common – example of the fracturing of [the] unwritten social contract” between schools and families.

John Camp
John Camp

Teacher Tapp polling for the leadership union found 32 per cent of teachers and leaders reported absence where the reason was that parents or carers were “in dispute with school”. This rose to 48 per cent when just leaders were asked.

Schools Week investigations have revealed staff are receiving more abuse, with trusts introducing codes of conduct, writing letters to parents about their “personally abusive” complaints, and calls for a national campaign to prevent it.

Other common reasons cited by leaders included families wanting to take term-time holidays (95 per cent), attending family events (88 per cent), and pupils being “too anxious about school” (76 per cent).

‘Potshots at schools’

In his speech to ASCL’s conference in Liverpool, Camp is to warn it “often seems like some politicians and commentators are far too quick to take potshots at schools”.

“Whether that’s by leaping on important and sensitive issues – like sex education and trans or gender-questioning pupils – to generate a cheap headline.

“Or banning mobile phones – when most schools have already done this or whether the school day should be five minutes longer. It sometimes feels like death by press release.”

Camp will say there are “many stories” behind absence statistics, “but what I find alarming is those reasons which suggest absence from school may not be seen in the way it used to”.

“And in particular, it is surprising that some children are kept at home because of a dispute with the school.”

Mental health and attendance support needed

He will call for “tangible solutions” – such as greater investment in mental health support for children and attendance support services.

“But I think something else is also needed. And that is a change of tone in the national conversation about education.

“An acknowledgement that everybody in public life must do more to talk up the many good things about schools and colleges, and to talk about teaching as the noble profession it is.

“We have a good education system – it could easily be great. We should be very proud of that.”

He will warn that “if politicians and commentators are constantly running down teachers and schools, and giving the impression that we can’t be trusted, then they’re helping to create a division”.

“I don’t, of course, think that this – on its own – is the reason for that fracturing of the social contract that I spoke about. But it certainly doesn’t help. It creates a febrile climate.

“And when social media is added into the mix, things can get very nasty very quickly. As I am sure many of us have experienced.”

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  1. Miss K Sutherst

    The problem stems from the department for education that mandates all the subjects that SEN children can’t do. The Art/Drama and Music classrooms whilst being a respite for some children and enjoyable can trigger SEN children so much as they are distracting and unstructured. It has taken 5 terms and a formal complaint to remove Art from my child’s timetable. It has been extremely frustrating that the school was adamant that it will give the child tools to deal with tough situations in adult life but has actually caused anxiety and a drop in grades across all subjects. 57% of MPs had private education in which 2 years of general education and 3 years of options for GCSEs. The current comprehensive is 3 years of general education and 2 years of GCSEs. We need to level the playing field. Change the system and the schools will get better results as children will be concentrating on their choice subjects rather than potential trigger subjects.