'Alarming' rise in school pupil absences in Scotland, report finds

New findings show school absences are worse among older pupils and have increased since the Covid pandemic.

‘Alarming trend’ of Scottish school absences among pupils, report finds

Concerns have been raised over an “alarming trend” of pupils missing school.

New figures show almost a third of pupils are missing an average of one day of school per fortnight.

The Commission on School Reform, from think tank Reform Scotland, found 32% of pupils – a total of 210,672 – had an attendance of less than 90% during the 2022/23 school year.

The problem of school absences appears to get worse among older children with the rates of absences having increased since the Covid pandemic.

Approximately half of high school pupils are missing a day every fortnight in Dundee, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire.

This compares to one-quarter or less in East Dunbartonshire, Highland, South Lanarkshire and Stirling.

The research was gained through Freedom of Information requests to all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

Keir Bloomer, chairman of the Commission on School Reform and a former local authority director of education, said the issue is of “national importance”.

The findings reveal that, during the 2022/23 school year, 79,633 pupils – some 12% – had an attendance of less than 80%.

Mr Bloomer said: “Children who miss a large proportion of school time are less likely to attain and less likely to form good relationships, as well as being disruptive to the family environment at home and the learning environment in class.

“School education is the most important driver of individual and national success, and it is time we recognised these links.

“In a particularly alarming trend, the absence problem gets worse as children get older, with two-in-five children of exam age missing an average of a day’s school every fortnight.

“It is impossible for a child to reach their full potential with this level of absence, and we must collectively grasp this problem before more damage is done.”

Following the report, Reform Scotland is set to host a panel discussing, titled Absent Minds, on Thursday.

Among the panel members will be MSP and former SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Recent data suggests that overall absence rates are now similar to average levels seen in previous years – but that there are variations at local level and between year groups.

“That is why the education secretary has asked Education Scotland to undertake work to better understand the current challenges which influence school attendance. The Cabinet secretary will explore these findings with COSLA when she receives them later this month.

“We know that attendance has been impacted for many young people by Covid-19, particularly for those people with caring responsibilities and those cohorts who experienced transition during the pandemic.

“We are clear that everyone involved with the education system must redouble efforts to ensure children are fully engaged in their learning. Attendance is vital – and ministers are willing to explore all options to make progress.”

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