Lost but not forgotten

This report from UK think tank the Centre for Social Justice looks at the reality of severe absence in schools post-lockdown.

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc in our schools. Young people’s life chances have been laid to waste by successive school shutdowns and interruptions to their learning. The damage caused by lockdowns could not be clearer than in the case of school attendance: the pandemic has given rise to a generation of ghost children. In 2021, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) reported that 100,000 kids have almost entirely disappeared from education since schools returned last year. Robert Halfon, Chair of the House of Commons Education Committee said ‘the existence of these so called “ghost children” is nothing short of a national disaster.’

Attendance is the most basic education requirement: it is the first and most important rung on the ladder of opportunity. This report lays bare the scale of the problem. Severe absence has spread through our school system like wildfire: nearly 800 schools have an entire class-worth of ghost children. In half of all local authorities over 500 children are severely absent. These children are some of our most vulnerable. 1-in-10 of all identified ghost children had a social, emotional, and mental health need. Schools with the most disadvantaged intakes were 10 times as likely to have a whole class worth of severely absent pupils in Autumn 2020, compared to schools with the most affluent intakes. Children who were eligible for free school meals were over three times more likely to be severely absent.


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