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“She didn't know how to go back” - School attendance problems in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic: A multiple stakeholder qualitative study with parents and professionals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

McDonald Bronte, Kathryn J. Lester, Daniel Michelson

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
E-pub ahead of print8 Nov 2022

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Abstract

Background: The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in school closures worldwide and unexcused absences have increased since schools reopened.

Aims: Drawing on multiple stakeholders’ perspectives, we aimed to (i) develop a detailed understanding of how school attendance problems (SAPs) have manifested for primary school-aged children in the context of Covid-19; and (ii) identify promising community-based intervention strategies.

Methods: We used a qualitative design with two sequential phases of data collection. Phase 1 involved insight generation using qualitative surveys with parents and professionals working in primary education settings. These results were used to guide in-depth stakeholder interviews in Phase 2.

Sample: Phase 1 included 29 parents of primary-school children experiencing SAPs and 19 professionals. Phase 2 included 10 parents and 12 professionals. Parents were recruited through social media; professionals were identified through schools and associated networks in Southern England.

Results: Attendance was particularly challenging for children with special educational needs and pre-existing anxiety problems. Compounding factors included Covid-related anxiety, difficulties adapting to new school routines, poor home-school communication and collaboration, and concerns about academic catch-up. Effective support was characterised by schools and families working closely together. Recommendations for practice improvements centred on early intervention, re-building parent-school relationships, peer support for parents, and improving special educational provision.

Conclusion: New interventions for SAPs must be sensitive to the ongoing Covid-19 context. Help should be easily accessible in the community and address modifiable risk and protective factors for individual children, in family systems and at the home-school interface.

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