More than 100,000 Scottish schoolchildren missed at least a day of lessons every fortnight, with one former education boss now urging Holyrood ministers to get a grip of the problem.
Some 138,312 pupils had attendance drop less than 90% according to the Commission on School Reform, meaning they were absent one day every two weeks, and 45,443 youngsters missed at least one day every week as their attendance dropped below 80%.
Keir Bloomer, a former local authority director of education and now chairman of the commission, warned: “The government should take a grip of this problem, without attributing blame, and ensure that the situation improves.”
The figures were collected from local authorities across the country, who were for asked school absence records using freedom of information powers. They were asked for the 2018/19 figures, which it said was the last fully pre-pandemic year.
The statistics showed the problem got worse as children got older, with more high school pupils missing at least one day per week than primary children.
Some 57,904 primary children had 90% or less attendance, and of these 13,394 had 80% or less attendance.
But in secondary schools 80,408 missed one day per fortnight, and of these 32,049 missed at least one day every week.
Mr Bloomer said: “Having children absent from school is bad for the child, bad for their family, and bad for the country.
“And a child who misses a day every week or a day every fortnight will almost inevitably find there to be a direct impact on their education.
“What is of gravest concern is that the problem gets proportionally worse as children get older and move from primary school to secondary school.”
The Commission on School Reform’s research, published on Monday, said early intervention could help those beginning to miss school regularly before it becomes a bigger problem and catching up on lost learning becomes harder.
The report also called for better online resources so when children are absent from school they can continue their learning from home.
And it said better data should be available, which should be investigated by the government, alongside parental support and improved help for children with mental health issues who are more likely to be absent than those without.
Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “The Scottish Government routinely publishes school attendance data. The most recent statistics published, for Wednesday 16th November 2022, show attendance was recorded as 90.9%, which is in line with previous years.
“It is important that schools should work with families to support and engage pupils in attendance at school. Our guidance sets out how to promote engagement and motivation, including among those who may be at risk of poor attendance and also makes clear the importance of relationships with families in promoting good attendance.”