School absence risks tidal wave of youth crime, CSJ analysis reveals

School absence risks tidal wave of youth crime, CSJ analysis reveals

26th July 2023


New analysis from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) reveals that soaring rates of school absence risks creating 9,000 extra young offenders by 2027 if left unresolved.

The think tank warns that failing to reverse the post-Covid surge in school absence risks producing an additional 2,000 young violent criminals – including those convicted of violent offences against the person or possession of a weapon – creating misery for communities already blighted by crime and anti-social behaviour.

The analysis, based on official studies, lays bare the risks of a “tidal wave of youth crime” with thousands more at risk of trouble with the law as a result of the failure to get school absence back to pre-pandemic levels. The cost to the taxpayer could be as much as £100 million a year, the research reveals.

Rates of absence have soared since schools were first shut down in 2020, with the numbers of persistently absent pupils – those missing more than 10 per cent of school time – rising to 32 per cent in 2022 among Year 11 pupils, up from 16 per cent just before the pandemic. The number of persistently absent pupils rose by over 800,000 since 2019 to 1.7 million in Autumn 2022. Department for Education and Ministry of Justice research analysed by the CSJ finds persistently absent pupils to be more than three times as likely to commit an offence by aged 17 than pupils fully attending school.

The latest data also shows that the number of severely absent pupils – those missing more than half of their school time – has more than doubled since 2019. These pupils are disproportionately likely to be vulnerable and in desperate need of support, but are currently slipping through the net, with potentially lifelong consequences.

The CSJ’s analysis focused on the pupils projected to leave school in Year 11 in 2025, a cohort dubbed the “lost generation” as they began secondary school just as devastating lockdown measures were taking effect.

The think tank estimates that there could be over 200,000 pupils in this group who would be persistently absent in their final year of school if the rate remains at the current level of 32 per cent. This means there could be an additional 9,000 offenders including 2,000 more violent offenders in this cohort by aged 17 – that is, by 2027 – compared to the pre-pandemic absence rate of 16 per cent (1).

The so-called “ghost children” were first identified by the CSJ in 2021, and the think tank has since tracked this issue and the Government’s response. Absence from school has a profound impact on individual life chances and incurs major costs to society, with absent pupils over-represented in the population leaving school not in education, training or employment (NEET).

The CSJ’s analysis also reveals there to be stark implications for crime, as pledges to build safer communities are expected to be a major battle ground at the next election.

On top of the harm to victims of crime, the failure to act urgently to address school absence carries a heavy price tag, the think tank estimates, with the expected surge in offending set to cost an additional £100 million for 2025 school leavers alone (2).

The Government has introduced some initiatives to tackle school absence. These include the publication of new attendance guidance and local attendance mentor pilots, offering some support to councils with higher rates of absence. Yet the guidance is non-statutory, leading to inconsistencies in how it is applied, and its local pilot of attendance mentor pilots will reach just one per cent of the 125,000 severely absent pupils at most.

The CSJ is calling on Government to radically upscale its response. It argues for a portion of the £114 million underspend on the National Tutoring Programme beset by operational problems to be redirected to roll out attendance mentors nationally, getting the nation’s young people back into school.

As the key recommendation in the CSJ’s seven-point plan to end the absence crisis, attendance mentors have been shown to tackle the underlying causes of absence by working across schools, families and pupils.

Andy Cook, Chief Executive of the Centre for Social Justice, said:

“Government needs to take absence seriously if we are to stop a lost generation of children suffering the consequences of lockdown for decades to come. Alongside stunting academic attainment, children with a history of school absence are three times more likely to commit an offence than those who routinely attend school.

“For the sake of these children’s future – and for the safety of our streets – government must stop tinkering around the edges and accelerate the national roll out of Attendance Mentors, ensuring all children benefit from an education that sets them up for life.”

The CSJ’s termly School Absence Tracker is available to download here.


  1. Methodology: The CSJ’s analysis and estimates of the risks of additional young offender numbers are based on DfE school population and annualised persistent absence data, as well as a Government study on the educational characteristics of young offenders. While a range of environmental and individual factors are involved in driving criminal behaviour official studies reveal a strong correlative link between school absence and crime, which the CSJ use to provide estimates of the potential risks of failing to reduce school absence rates to pre-pandemic levels.
    For the basis of this analysis the CSJ used a cross-departmental study that used matched DfE and MoJ data on young offenders, which shows the rate of persistently absent pupils at Year 11 who committed an offence up to the age of 17 (i.e. two years after Year 11).  The study also provided data on those committing “serious violent crimes”, defined as violence against the person or possession of a weapon.
    The CSJ used the DfE’s annualised pupil headcount projections to estimate 2024/25 secondary school leavers, then applied the young offender rate from the joint DfE/MoJ study, comparing a scenario which assumes the rate of persistent absence to remain at elevated levels (32 per cent) vs a scenario which assumes absence returns to pre-pandemic levels (16 per cent). This produces the estimate of 9,000 additional offenders risked by elevated school absence in this cohort (see worked methodology below)
    Worked methodology:

      Scenario 1: Elevated absence levels among 2025 school leavers (32 per cent) Scenario 2: Pre-pandemic absence levels among 2025 school leavers (16 per cent)
    Total pupils in Year 11 2024/25 (forecast by DfE) 634,914 634,914
    Annualised persistently absent 2025 school leavers 204,511 102,635
    Persistently absent pupils committing an offence by aged 17 (assuming rate of 9 per cent, DfE/MoJ)  17,854 8,960
    Persistently absent pupils committing a serious violent offence by aged 17 (assuming rate of 2 per cent, DfE/MoJ)  4,363 2,190
    Total additional offenders by 2027 among 2025 school leavers 8,894 N/A (Base)
  2. To provide a rough estimate of cost, the CSJ used a National Audit Office unit cost of £8,000 per young offender, which the CSJ then uprated by inflation to £11,761 and applied to the additional 8,894 offenders to provide the estimate of £105 million additional spend on this cohort.

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