Last reviewed 13 November 2023

Following the pandemic, school absence rates have become stuck at crisis levels, according to the Children’s Commissioner with the result that, last year, over one in five children were persistently absent, meaning they missed on average at least a day a fortnight in school.

This equates to 1.8 million children who were regularly missing education.

In a Briefing on School Attendance in England, the Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, describes improving school attendance as an absolute priority.

Carrying out an attendance audit, she talked to hundreds of children who are regularly absent from school.

“Children aren’t absent from school because they don’t want to learn,” the Commissioner said. “They are desperate to learn yet everyday thousands of children find themselves without the support that they need to engage in education.”

In 2022/23, the overall absence rate was 7.5%; before the pandemic, in 2018/19, the overall absence rate was 4.7%.

Drivers of school absence

According to the audit, the reasons for school absences are complex but include the following.

  • For some, the pandemic has led to disengagement. Schools and families have said that they feel like the social contract between parents and schools has been broken.

  • Many children detailed their wait for specialist support such as mental health support or an education, health and care plan.

  • In some instances, children are struggling with issues in their home environment. The Children’s Commissioner heard from young carers who struggled to attend school regularly.