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

CSR Briefing: Absence & Attendance in School


  • New Freedom of Information research from Commission on School Reform
  • Almost 140,000 miss a day every fortnight
  • Problem gets worse as children get older

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 absence from school, based on Freedom of Information requests to Scottish local authorities.

The research contains detail on absence, broken down by local authorities, early and late primary school, and early and late secondary school. It carries tables showing the number of children who are absent from school at least one day every fortnight (90% attendance) and at least one day every week (80% attendance).

The data is based on the academic year 2018/19 – the last available data not distorted by the Covid pandemic.

In the briefing, Absence and Attendance in School, the Commission argues for early intervention, based on the clear evidence that absence becomes more prevalent as children age, and move from primary to secondary school. 

Specifically, the Commission recommends:

  • Better data. Obtaining this data via Freedom of Information has been unnecessarily difficult and lacks transparency and consistency. The problem, and the data, should be investigated at Scottish Government level.
  • Parental support. The Commission does not support punitive measures against parents whose children are too often absent from school – instead they must be given support along the lines outlined in The Promise.
  • Online resources. The increasing level of absence, followed by a huge amount of lost education during Covid, makes a compelling case for better online resources. When children are absent, for whatever reason, they must be able to continue their learning at home.
  • CAMHS. Studies have shown that children with mental health issues are more likely to be absent than those without. However, CAMHS is under-resourced. Improvements in CAMHS ability to help children could make a significant impact in getting absent children back to school. 

“Education is a crucially important force for improvement in any child’s life, and the most important driver of the country’s future growth and prosperity.

“Having children absent from school is bad for the child, bad for their family and bad for the country. And a child who misses a day every week or a day every fortnight will almost inevitably find there to be a direct impact on their education.

“What is of gravest concern is that the problem gets proportionally worse as children get older and move from primary school to secondary school.

“We are all invested in this. The government should take a grip of this problem, without attributing blame, and ensure that the situation improves.”

Keir Bloomer, Chair, Commission on School Reform


Absence & Attendance in School