Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Absent Minds: Attendance and Absence in Scotland’s Schools


  • “Alarming trend”, warns Commission on School Reform
  • Over 210,000 miss a day every fortnight
  • Problem worse at high school – 40% of pupils miss a day per fortnight

The Commission on School Reform, the independent group of education experts set up by the think tank Reform Scotland, has today released new research on pupil absence from schools, based on Freedom of Information requests to Scottish local authorities.

The research, broken down by local authority and school stage, reveals that an alarming number of children are missing school regularly.

The research shows:

  • Nearly one in three children are missing an average of one day per fortnight
  • One in eight are missing a day a week
  • Nearly 20 per cent of high school pupils miss a day every week
  • And 2-in-5 miss a day every fortnight, including during the examination years

There is significant variation at local authority level, with some particularly concerning levels of absence in secondary schools:

  • Half of high schools pupils are missing a day every fortnight in Dundee, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire
  • This compares to one-quarter or less in East Dunbartonshire, Highland, South Lanarkshire and Stirling
  • Full tables are available in the briefing.

In the briefing, Absent Minds, the Commission calls on the Scottish Government to take the issue more seriously, to investigate and collect the data at a national level, and to work with willing local authorities on a pilot scheme to reverse this dangerous trend of absence.

School absence is a matter of national importance and should be treated as such. Children who miss a large proportion of school time are less likely to attain and less likely to form good relationships, as well as being disruptive to the family environment at home and the learning environment in class.

“School education is the most important driver of individual and national success, and it is time we recognised these links.

“In a particularly alarming trend, the absence problem gets worse as children get older, with two-in-five children of exam age missing an average of a day’s school every fortnight.

“It is impossible for a child to reach their full potential with this level of absence, and we must collectively grasp this problem before more damage is done.”

Keir Bloomer, chair of the Commission on School Reform and former local authority Director of Education


Absent Minds: Attendance and Absence in Scotland’s Schools

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