Severe absence from school hits record high amid calls for urgent action

Severe absence from school hits record high amid calls for urgent action

19th October 2023

Media Statement from the Centre for Social Justice

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is calling for urgent action to tackle severe school absence as new Government figures released today show that the number of so-called “ghost-children” has returned to record highs.

The latest data, released by the Department of Education, reveals that in Spring term 2023, 140,000 pupils were severely absent, meaning they missed at least 50 per cent of their lessons. This has more than doubled since before the pandemic, with an additional 80,000 pupils now severely absent compared to Autumn term 2019.

The data also show that the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their peers has reached its highest level in over a decade. Given that children on Free School Meals are three times more likely to be severely absent than their more affluent classmates, crisis levels of severe absence will further entrench post-pandemic disparities.

Attendance is critical to academic attainment and future life chances. Young people with a track record of severe absence are vastly over-represented in the cohort of those not in employment, education or training (NEET) while the CSJ’s research has also found that persistently absent pupils are around three times more likely than their peers to go on to commit a crime within two years of leaving school.

Beth Prescott, Senior Education Researcher at the Centre for Social Justice, said:

This is a shocking step backwards in the fight to get severely absent kids back to school.

The Education Secretary has said that tacking school attendance is her top priority, but we need urgent action starting with the national rollout of 2,000 attendance mentors to provide tailored support to children and families to address the underlying barriers to attendance.”

The new data also reveals a decrease in persistent absence for Spring term 2023, with nearly 1.5 million children persistently absent, down from 1.7 million in Autumn term 2022, although the numbers are still eye-wateringly high. This means one in five children missed at least 10 per cent of their school time.


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