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Think tank: Centre for Social Justice

Author(s): Alice Wilcock

March 23, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Centre for Social Justice looks at how severe absence became endemic in England’s schools.

Since 2021, the Centre for Social Justice has been investigating the issue of school absence. Our report, Kids Can’t Catch Up, first revealed that nearly 100,000 children had become severely absent in Autumn 2020. Severe absence is defined as when a child is spending more time absent from, than present in, school. Since then, the number of severely absent children has continued to climb. New Centre for Social Justice analysis reveals that in the latest term we have data for, Summer 2022, 140,000 children were severely absent. This represents a rise of 50 per cent since absence levels were first elevated by the pandemic in Autumn 2020. By Summer 2022, there were 134 per cent more severely absent children than before the pandemic – equivalent to 137 entire schools where the children are mostly missing education. The Government has recognised the importance of attendance and taken several very welcome steps to tackle school absences. New guidance has been issued, setting out a thorough multi-agency approach to attendance. Regular data and the work of the Attendance Alliance has allowed us to build a more detailed understanding of absence than ever before. And the introduction of Attendance Advisors and local pilots for Attendance Mentors has offered some support to councils most in need. Yet these actions do not yet go far enough. This report finds that the support for school attendance issues is still a postcode lottery. Persistent and severe absence are often symptoms of complex issues which need to be addressed. Far too often, schools and local authorities are unable to provide the support that children need to access education. In this paper, we uncover the damaging scale of severe absence. Despite recent efforts, the number of children missing half or more of their time at school has continued to grow term on term. At an alarming pace, children are disengaging with education entirely. This paper sets out a plan to support them back to school.