School Attendance Drops by a Fifth on Fridays as WFH Parents Blamed


The Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, is blaming parents working from home for the sudden decrease in school attendance, especially on Fridays. Below, we discuss the public reaction to this claim, consider the benefits of remote working, and explain the process for requesting flexible working.

Confused about flexible working or making a flexible working request? Read our guide on flexible working for more insight.

Number of Unauthorised School Holidays Higher Now Than Pre-Pandemic

Government data shows that school attendance on Fridays has decreased by 20%. According to Gillian Keegan, these figures are due to parents working from home and taking their children out of school for extended weekends away. The data also indicates that unauthorised holidays are 25% higher than those recorded before the Coronavirus pandemic. In addition, absences over the academic year currently average 7.8% on Fridays, compared to 6.6% on Wednesdays.

Ms Keegan is determined to crack down on absences and encourage better school attendance. She adds, “It is unacceptable to take a deliberate decision to take your child out of school. Every day a child is absent they will miss on average five to six lessons – time they will never get back.”

Drop in School Attendance is Due To Anxiety in ChildrenNot Unauthorised Holidays

There has been considerable backlash against Ms Keegan’s claims that remote working is the cause of lower school attendance. Beth Prescott, Programme Lead at the Centre for Social Justice, states that “the main drivers of the school attendance crisis is mental health and anxiety in children”. While emphasising the need for better support, she adds “It will be hard to encourage children back into school unless parents are fully involved.”

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Parents on LinkedIn have been somewhat blunter with their responses, with users posting: “This is a new angle in the anti-WFH movement” and “… is there actually any reliable evidence that she is correct? I can’t imagine many WFH parents find it beneficial to keep their children off school if they don’t need to! I’m sure there are many valid reasons why children are home.”

Flexible Working Impacts School Attendance and Workplace Inclusion

Whilst Gillian Keegan has put something of a negative slant on WFH parents, in reality, the evidence suggests that flexible working actually has numerous benefits for most working parents. Working from home has been cited to improve work-life balance as it allows more flexibility to working parents, especially with respect to parental duties. Another benefit of working from home is enhanced well-being and employee satisfaction. According to research reported by the CIPD, there is a direct correlation between the two, with a reflective increase in employee productivity.

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Additionally, working from home promotes a more inclusive workplace as it often enables both parents to remain in work whilst raising a family. Previously, one parent (typically the mother) has felt unable to continue working due to the conflicting commitments of work and childcare. However, flexible working creates a space that enables both parents to participate in duties such as the daily school run, thus helping to enhance school attendance. This, in turn, means that more mothers are able to remain part of the workforce, helping to promote gender equality at work.

How Can I Request For Flexible Working?

In the UK, employees are now entitled to request flexible working arrangements as soon as they commence their employment. Each employee has the right to make two such requests each year. Such flexible working might include a change to the employee’s working times, hours, or location. Formal requests must be made in writing to the employer and should provide details of the requested change, when it is required to come into effect, and whether any previous flexible working requests have been made.

The employer should then arrange a meeting to discuss the request in more detail, during which they may offer alternative arrangements. It is advisable for employees requesting flexible working to prepare a strong case to present during the meeting, including how they envisage the arrangement working in practice and how it may benefit the employer. The employer may offer a trial run of the proposed flexible working arrangement, which can help to identify any potential issues.

Can My Flexible Working Request Be Rejected?

A decision should then be made by the employer to accept, partially accept, or reject the flexible working request. A request may only be rejected for a genuine business reason that the employer must disclose, such as extra costs or being unable to reorganise work with other employees. Employers are not legally obliged to offer an appeal process for rejected requests, although this is advised. The entire process – from the employee’s submission of the request to the end of the appeal (if applicable) – should not take longer than two months.

Depending on the circumstances, employees may prefer to make an informal request for flexible working.  For instance, if the request is for a temporary change only or they have already made two formal requests that year, they can make an informal request. However, informal requests are not subject to the same statutory procedure, and employees will not be protected from unfair dismissal or subsequent detriment if they follow this route.

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So How Else Can Employers Support Working Parents?

If you need advice regarding flexible working, Redmans Solicitors can help you. Read our guide on flexible working for more insight. If you have a claim to make, contact us today for a free initial consultation and one of our friendly team will be delighted to assist. To get started:

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