20 May 2020: Over 21 million British people — 11 million parents and 10 million children, or a third of the population — are being affected by the closure of schools across the UK, according to a new analysis of official government data. Up to two thirds of parents have received no contact from schools with advice about supervised learning, leaving them to fend for themselves.

While schools remain open, only 180,000 vulnerable children or those of key workers attended school on average each day following the Easter holidays (21 April – 1 May 2020). The remaining 98 per cent of school children have been forced by the coronavirus outbreak to continue their education at home under the supervision of parents and carers.

The new data analysis by education campaign group Just Add Parents reveals that:

  • 14.2 million parents with dependent children have been affected by the closure of schools and childcare services
  • 11 million of those parents have school-age children between 5 and 18 years old
  • 10.2 million children typically attend school, but an average of only 180,000 are currently attending — two per cent of the total
  • During the lockdown, 98 per cent of school age children will be dependent on the support and motivation of parents to complete their schoolwork

Peter Sigrist, founder of campaign group Just Add Parents, comments: “Parents have always played a vital role in their child’s education but coronavirus has harshly revealed the gap between a school’s ability to communicate and parent’s ability to teach. Schools need help to move beyond information. They need to equip parents with knowledge, confidence and clarity to make sure their children don’t lose out on a whole year of education.”

A recent report from education charity the Sutton Trust* revealed half of schools (50 per cent secondary, 47 per cent primary) offer no general advice to parents about supporting learning and only one in three (36 per cent secondary, 34 per cent primary) had contacted parents to offer specific advice about supervised learning. This means parents have mostly been left to work it out for themselves. The Department for Education has published only five paragraphs of advice on “the expectations on schools regarding staying in touch with parents whose child is at home”. It contains no suggestions on how schools can help parents play the role of educators during the shutdown**.

The coronavirus is affecting parents and children unevenly. The Sutton Trust research reveals most parents with a degree feel confident directing their child’s learning, compared to less than half of those parents who did not attend university. Only one third of children in state schools have joined online classes during the shutdown, while over half of children in private schools have taken part daily in live or recorded online lessons.

Sigrist continues: “While schools are doing their best to send information to parents and provide access to technology, from the examples we’ve seen, few appear to recognise the role that good communication plays in giving parents the support they need to build home-schooling into their already busy, stressed out schedule. All the evidence shows that clear, consistent and regular communication, whether by email, app or video, helps parents avoid becoming overwhelmed and losing confidence.”

Education researchers in Latvia concluded a major study of education during their coronavirus shutdown and found a strong connection between communication and confidence***. The research team at Edurio found three quarters (76 per cent) of parents who received clear communication from their school also had confidence that their children would meet their learning goals. Where school communication was completely unclear, only nine per cent of parents were confident in their children’s learning success.

The same research found that while communication was the most important factor in delivering successful home-based education during the crisis, schools also need to focus on clarity over volume, with communications a few times a week almost as effective (91 per cent clear) as communication a few times a day (95 per cent clear).


About Just Add Parents

Just Add Parents is a campaigning and training organisation formed to give schools the confidence and skills to create a positive parent community, via training and advice offered free during the coronavirus shutdown. It was launched in 2020 by a team with experience in education and communications. Just Add Parents’ first aim is to support schools during the coronavirus pandemic, in recognition of the fact they need to engage parents like never before. In the longer term, it hopes to help the community of UK schools gain a better grasp of the fundamentals of communication, community building and engagement. We perceive that we are building on the insights originally laid out in the 1967 Plowden Report and the subject of a wealth of educational research and policy intervention ever since: that the school-parent relationship makes a contribution to every child’s learning.

Founder Peter Sigrist has worked at the leading edge of brand and corporate communications for 20 years. His first client was a high profile school and that path ultimately led him to become the head of communications at Tes Global, where he was responsible for engagement with teachers, school leaders, universities and governments in the UK and worldwide. He was the communications director for a group of independent schools in the UK and has represented a number of schools as a professional communicator covering parent communications, branding, marketing and crisis communications.

Official data

The new analysis of government data was conducted using 2018 data from the UK government and devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The data are drawn from school pupil population surveys and the Office of National Statistics Labour Force Survey. All sources, definitions and the statistics used are below.

Data definitions and notes
  • Family with dependent children = married, civil partnered or cohabiting couple, or a lone parent with at least one dependent child living at the same address
  • Dependent children = those living with their parents and either under 16 or 16-18 and in full time education, except those who are married or have their own children
  • Parent or parents (may include step or foster parents) = the adult or adults in a family with dependent children
  • All calculations are for the UK and based on 2018 data
Official data sources

Source A) ONS Families and Households Dataset (source: Labour Force Survey, ONS):

Source B) Number of parents and percentage of adult population living with at least one dependent child, by specific age groups, 2018. User request response, published 6 December 2019 (source: Labour Force Survey, ONS):

Source C) Schools, pupils and their characteristics: January 2019 Accompanying Tables:

Source D) Summary statistics for schools in Scotland no. 9: 2018 edition

Source E) Annual enrolments in schools in Northern Ireland, 2018/19

Source F) StatsWales: Pupil Level Annual School Census (PLASC): Pupils

Source G) Coronavirus (COVID-19): attendance in education and early years settings (England) Coronavirus https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-attendance-in-education-and-early-years-settings

Relevant statistics

Statistic i) Number of parents with dependent children

  • 14.205 million (+/-308K) parents with dependent children

Source: A

Statistic ii) Number of parents with dependent school age (5-18) children

  • 11.040 million parents with dependent children aged 5-18 (school age)

Source: B

Statistic iii) Number of school children attending school in the UK

  • 10.213 million children attend school in the UK

Sources: C-F

Statistic iv) Number of children attending school during Covid-19 (England)

  • 180,000 pupils attended school on an average shutdown day between 21 April and 1 May

Source: G


* Sutton Trust Research Brief: Covid-19 and Social Mobility, 20 April 2020, Figure 14 https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/COVID-19-Impact-Brief-School-Shutdown.pdf
** Department for Education: Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak, 28 April 2020, Section 5.3 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-school-closures/guidance-for-schools-about-temporarily-closing#working-with-parents
*** Managing a school system through shutdown, Edurio and the Ministry of Education and Science, Latvia, March 2020 https://issuu.com/eduriocom/docs/report_shutdown_lessons?fr=sZWI4ODEzMTEwOTc