The sheer number of children missing big chunks of school is a crisis with many parts.
Firstly, the working-class kids: three times as many children receiving free school meals are severely absent from school than those pupils who aren’t eligible.
And many come from homes where rates of unemployment are high, where the risk of being evicted is greatest and where it’s more likely that they are living in some of the country’s poorest areas.
Secondly, it’s about money: Schools in these areas say they simply no longer have the money or resources to check up on children who aren’t turning up.
Even though the government has pledged more money to schools in budgets since 2019, the rise in inflation and costs has largely canceled that out.
Many schools used to have dedicated members of staff who would call up families and even visit them if a child was absent.
But numbers are dwindling across England and we have seen evidence of schools turning to charities to plug the gap, as mentioned in our report on Teddy’s story.
And then it’s about the children for whom traditional schooling simply doesn’t work.
This is a huge group.
Children with disabilities and health conditions or special educational needs (SEN) have historically had higher rates of absence.
This could be because of health issues, lack of support in school, or waiting for a suitable school place, as well as being subject to higher rates of exclusion and illegal exclusion.
More and more are opting out of mainstream education and instead choosing alternative provision or even private online classes if they can afford to pay.
The government says it’s rolling out special attendance hubs across England in the areas with the highest absence rates: Knowsley, Doncaster, Stoke-on-Trent and Salford.
Absence in schools is now at crisis point – this is Teddy’s story
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These are all in the top 50 most deprived areas of England, according to the Office for National Statistics.
And this is key.
Because it’s also about the really serious implications for society more broadly if this crisis is not brought under control.
There is an abundance of evidence to show that missing out on school has detrimental consequences for academic achievement, particularly for students from poorer backgrounds.
And this makes it difficult to get a good job that pays well.
So poor attendance in school could be very damaging to the government’s long-held aspiration to “level up” Britain, create good quality jobs and grow the economy.