Unauthorised holidays 'biggest contributor' to Scotland's falling school attendance rates

Overall attendance dropped to to 90.2% in 2022-23, from 92% the report said.

Unauthorised holidays ‘biggest contributor’ to Scotland’s falling school attendance rates iStock

Parents opting to take their children out of school for a holiday was the “biggest contributor to the increase in unauthorised absence from 2020-21 to 2022-23” according to new statistics.

Figures published by the Scottish Government showed a drop in overall school attendance rates to 90.2% in 2022-23 – down from 92% in 2020-21.

The report revealed that while attendance rates had increased to 93.7% in 2014-15, there had been consecutive decreases since then.

The largest drop was from 92% in 2020-21 to 90.2% in 2022-23, it said.

Schools had an increase in both authorised and unauthorised absences.

Sickness was the most common reason for authorised absences, while truanting was the biggest reason for pupils having unauthorised absences.

However the report added that the “biggest contributor to the increase in unauthorised absence from 2020-21 to 2022-23 was unauthorised holidays”, with more parents opting to take their children away during term time.

Pupils in the poorest parts of Scotland had a lower attendance rate than those youngsters in the most affluent communities, the report revealed – with an attendance rate of 86.8% in the most deprived parts of Scotland compared with 93.5% in the least deprived areas.

Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth has branded the number of pupils missing school “not acceptable”.

She said: “The rates of persistent absence highlighted in these figures are not acceptable

“I am absolutely clear that there must be a renewed drive across all levels of governments and agencies to address this as a priority.”

Gilruth has now told Scotland’s Chief Inspector for Education to “ensure that persistent absence is addressed at every school inspection”, along with identifying successful methods of tackling the problem, so these can be shared more widely.

The Education Secretary also said she would this week bring together members of the Scottish Advisory Group on Relationships and Behaviour – which includes local authority leaders, council education directors, Education Scotland and others – to “focus on persistent school absence”.

Gilruth said: “We know that absence is among the post-pandemic challenges facing schools internationally and Scotland is not immune from that.

“Education Scotland has already offered support to schools to improve attendance and reduce absence, following publication of the Improving Attendance report which I commissioned last year.”

She added: “Scotland’s education system continues to perform well, despite the challenges of recent years, with the most recent figures showing record highs in expected literacy and numeracy levels among primary pupils, while a record number of school leavers are getting into work, training or further study.”

She said that as a “first priority” the Scottish Government was working with councils to “return attendance to pre-Covid levels and to reduce persistent absence as far as possible”.

As well as the fall in school attendance rates, the figures also showed an increase in exclusions – with these having increased by 40% over just two years.

According to the data there were 11,676 occasions when pupils had to be excluded in 2022-23 – up by 3,353 from the 8,323 exclusions that were imposed in 2020-21.

The total was still significantly lower than the high of 44,794 that was recorded in 2006-07.

Meanwhile the figures showed the rise in the number of pupils with additional support needs (ASN) continued, with 259,036 youngsters – 37% of all school students – in this category in 2023.

This is up from 34.2% the previous year, with the number of such students said to have “increased markedly since 2010”, according to the report.

Overall the number of students in Scotland’s schools fell slightly, going from 705,874 in 2022 to 705,528 in 2023 – a drop of 346.

Teacher numbers also fell, decreasing by 160 to 54,033 in 2023.

With the number of children and teachers in primary schools both falling, the pupil teacher ratio remained at 15.3.

But in secondary schools the rise in the number of students was “slightly higher proportionally” than the increase in teachers, meaning the pupil teacher ratio rose from 12.4 to 12.5 in 2023.

Meanwhile there were 15 local authority areas where the number of teachers increased – with Dundee City Council seeing a 3.1% rise in its teaching staff, with 42 more full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers in 2023 than it had in 2022.

However in 17 council areas the number of teachers decreased, with a 2.7% fall in East Ayrshire meaning 33 fewer FTE teachers, and both Glasgow City Council and Moray Council seeing teacher numbers drop by 2% – meaning 114 and 19 fewer FTE teachers respectively.

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