School attendance: a parent’s view

5 mins read

Tuesday 30 April 2024

Tags: special educational needs, school attendance

Attendance is one of the top concerns on Contact’s helpline. Children with additional needs may have different reasons for being off school including appointments, anxiety and unmet need in school.

The government’s Moments Matter, Attendance Counts campaign upset some parents because it didn’t acknowledge those difficulties publicly. While the guidance does mention it, the poster campaign does not.

Imogen Steele, Education Policy Lead at Contact said: “We are concerned that the government’s attendance drive puts pressure on schools to only accept 100% attendance at a time when there is increasing unmet need leading to more children with disabilities unable to attend school. It could lead to a lack of understanding in schools about the reasons why a child with a health condition or disability might be off school. This could put parents and schools in an adversarial position.”

We asked for parents to contact us with their stories so that we can share their situations with the Department for Education to increase understanding. And we are delighted to have a blog from a parent sharing their school attendance experience.

A parent’s story  

I am the parent of two autistic children. Both my children had 100% attendance throughout school, until a time when they were unable to maintain the level of masking they had previously.

My daughter, aged 15, was able to mask her difficulties completely. So much so, that none of the staff even knew she was struggling. They didn’t see her meltdowns in the bathroom cubicle or her exhaustion when she got home at the end of the school day. They didn’t understand the toll her disabilities took on her body and mind and they didn’t acknowledge how difficult it must have been for her to function whilst battling with insomnia. They didn’t see why she chose to sit in the car until the bell was about to ring each morning.

The fact she got up every single day and pushed herself to get into school was courageous. There were times when she told me she didn’t want to go and cried. I told her firmly that she must. After all, going to school is what children do and parents must work, so what other option did I have?

I drove to work in tears and awaited the secret text from the toilets. There were times when she felt unable to disclose her discomfort and I made excuses to collect her early.

She was able to push down her own emotions and prioritise the feelings of others above her own. She felt guilty asking for the day off and so she continued to mask.

These Moments Mattered. I taught my daughter that she shouldn’t listen to her own body and mind. She should ignore her own needs and please those around her. Of course, I didn’t realise that’s what I was teaching her at the time.


My youngest’s disability meant that masking was incredibly difficult. But for a whole year, I told my son he had to go to school and that I had to go to work. I helped him feel better about going by inviting friends over for tea and I used lots of distracting strategies to get him into his uniform, out of the door, into the car, through the gates and into class. But none of these things were enough to make the setting appropriate for him.

The school system didn’t feel safe to him. His disabilities meant that the uniform was uncomfortable and he became unable to wear it. There were issues with friendships and teachers and more than anything the demands of school. He eventually stopped engaging with the learning.

I advocated for support and reasonable adjustments. But by the time I was listened to, his meltdowns were so bad, and his mental health began to suffer. I began to question why I was sending him somewhere that was causing such distress.

I realised that my priority was the mental health of my children.

These were the Meaningful Moments that Mattered. The moments where I listened to the voices of my children. The moments where I empathised with their experiences. And the moments where I advocated for their voices to be heard by others. I was finally in full attendance in my role as their Mother.

Would you like to write a blog on attendance?

We would like to hear from parents whose disabled children are unable to attend school. Please get in touch with if you would like to write a blog sharing your personal experience of the current 100% attendance policy. Once you get in touch, we’ll be able to help you put something together. We’ll be sharing these blogs with all political parties in the hope of influencing future attendance policy.

Need advice?

We have information on attendance, absence and help with medical needs.