Some pupils have missed school on Fridays since the pandemic because their parents are at home, England’s children’s commissioner has said.
The number of pupils regularly missing school in England remains higher than pre-Covid levels.
Dame Rachel de Souza told MPs there was “a huge amount” of absence on Fridays – when “mum and dad are at home” – that “wasn’t there before”.
The government said it is providing help for regularly absent children.
Pupils count as persistently absent if they miss 10% or more of school sessions, which would amount to seven days in the autumn term.
Dame Rachel told the Commons Education Select Committee on Tuesday that 818,000 of the 1.6 million children who were persistently absent across the autumn and spring terms in 2021/22 were off school for reasons other than illness.
And some pupils are missing school on Fridays more than on other days of the week, she said – a trend that did not exist before the pandemic – citing analysis of attendance data from autumn 2021, covering 32,000 children from three multi-academy trusts.
Dame Rachel said conversations with families suggested one reason for lower school attendance was that remote learning during lockdown had led to an attitude of “Well, why can’t we just have online learning?”
She added: “Parents are at home on Fridays. We’ve had evidence from kids: ‘Well, you know, mum and dad are at home – stay at home’.”
The Education Select Committee has launched an inquiry into why persistent absence has grown since the pandemic.
A quarter (25.1%) of pupils were persistently absent last term, compared with 13.1% in the autumn term of 2019. The increase was partly driven by high levels of flu and other viruses, the government said at the time.
Responding to Dame Rachel’s comments on Tuesday, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “The vast majority of children are in school and learning but we are offering targeted help for children who are regularly absent.
“This includes working with schools, trusts, governing bodies, and local authorities to identify pupils who are at risk of becoming, or who are persistently absent and working together to support that child to return to regular and consistent education.”