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Absences From Schools In The UK – The Key Statistics For 2023.

20th March 2023

The number of UK children being recorded as absent from school has risen considerably post-pandemic, according to the latest government figures. Even more concerning is the estimated 250,000 children who are not even registered with a school in 2023.

School absence is caused by a wide range of social and economic issues and is known to lead to poorer outcomes for the children affected. Poor attendance could lead to worse health, reduced employability and an increased likelihood of the child turning to crime.

It is, therefore, a vital task of local authorities across the UK to slow and reverse the decline in school attendance.

This guide outlines the key statistics behind school absences and reveals the solutions being put in place to tackle it. Our experts also explain how embracing new technology for social care is key to avoid children falling off the radar.

What is Absenteeism in School?

In 2023, there are more than 9 million school age children in England alone. While the vast majority attend classes regularly, there is a significant and rising number who are regularly absent. There are two different types of school absenteeism.

  • Persistent absenteeism – When pupils record less than a 90% attendance at school.
  • Severe absenteeism – When pupils are present for less than 50% of their school days.

How Many Children in the UK are Absent from School?

Government data from the 2021/2022 academic year shows that a huge 22.5% of registered pupils in England were persistently absent from school – a total of 1.6 million children.

That’s an 85.9% increase compared to last year and a 116.8% increase compared to the pre-pandemic 2018/2019 school year.

Graph absent pupils in England

How Does the Number Differ by Age and Gender?

There is no significant difference between the rates of absences for male and female pupils. However, there is variation when it comes to age.

Generally, the older a pupil is, the more likely they are to be absent from school. The year group with the most persistent absentees is therefore years 10 and 11.





Year 10 pupils persistently absent (%)




Year 11 pupils persistently absent (%)




How Does the Number Differ by Area of England?

As for geographical location, the difference in school absence rates by region has grown. The current data shows that the North East has the highest level of persistent absenteeism (24.7%).

This contrasts with the 19.6% of pupils in Outer London who were persistently absent from school during the 2021/2022 school year.

Persistent school absences by region of England 2021/2022

North East


Yorkshire and The Humber


West Midlands


South West


East of England


 North West


South East


East Midlands


Inner London


Outer London


How Many Children in the UK are Home-Schooled?

Children who receive their education from home are not classed as being absent from school. The number of home-schooled children rose after the pandemic. In 2018-2019, 23,000 pupils were taken out of school to be taught at home.

In contrast, in the 2020-2021 school year, there was a 74% increase with 40,000 newly home-schooled children.

The main reason for this difference is thought to be the rise in COVID anxiety among parents across the country.

What About the Children Who are Not Registered?

A child missing from education (CME) has not been registered with any school, nor are they being educated from home.

It is estimated that more children are missing from education than ever before. In a 2020 report, the Local Government Association estimated the total number as 250,000 children.

More recent investigations by the Children’s Commissioner For England in 2022 found that there are no reliable figures for children who have slipped through the net and never go to school.

As local authorities don’t know what happened to these children, they’re unable to meet their duty to keep them safe.

What are the Key Causes of Absenteeism in Schools?

There is no one factor responsible for the continued rise in absent school pupils in the UK. It’s a combination of causes that is behind the rise in absences. The main contributing factors include:


The cost-of-living crisis is pushing more UK children into poverty. Government data shows 22.5% of pupils were eligible to receive free school meals (FSM) in January 2022, compared to 20.8% the previous year.

There is a direct link between poverty and school attendance. In the 2020/2021 school year, 24.4% of FSM eligible children were persistently absent, compared to 8.3% who were not eligible.

A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found one key reason for this was financial support. Disadvantaged children can lack the funds to engage in out of school activities and their families may also struggle to afford materials such as school uniforms.

The Covid-19 Pandemic

The pandemic has led to a greater rate of school absence through sickness. Many families have also since adopted a more relaxed attitude towards their children’s attendance.

This is largely because of the lockdown learning experience, which broke down normal routines and triggered a disengagement with education for many.

In some cases, children lacked the materials needed to participate in digital remote lessons and fell behind as a result. This then had a knock-on effect on their attendance in the years that have followed.

Special Educational Needs

Children who have special educational needs (SEN) are 67% more likely to be absent from school. As the number of pupils with SEN has been steadily increasing since 2016, this is undoubtedly a factor in climbing absence rates.

Health Factors

There are also a vastly increasing amount of under-16s suffering mental health conditions in the UK. Statistics from YoungMinds suggest an average of five children in every classroom have a probable mental health problem. In 2017, this was thought to be nearer three in each classroom.

The rise in cases of anxiety and depression is, inevitably, affecting school attendance figures.

Parental and Family Factors

While most parents are highly supportive of their child’s education, some have a negative attitude to school, which can be passed down to the next generation. This may be due to a negative experience they had themselves when they were at school.

Other families may make other demands of children within the family, which mean going to school is treated as less important. For example, children may be asked to do the shopping or help look after a sick or elderly relative, instead of attending their classes.

Peer Pressure

Truancy is often simply caused by the attitudes of friends, who make children feel that absence from school is acceptable.

For many pupils, spending time with their friends is their favourite thing about school. So, if certain friends within a close-knit circle begin to skip classes, others may follow suit in order to fit in with the habits of the group.

School Factors

There are many aspects of the school day itself, which could be the root cause of a child’s absence from the classroom. Most notably the threat of bullying or a feeling of self-isolation are common reasons behind absences.

Some children have a disliking for certain teachers or lessons, so severe that they avoid school altogether. Others may have difficulties settling in and finding friends in a new school or could be struggling with the transition from primary to secondary school.

What are the Effects of Absenteeism in Schools?

Numerous studies have revealed the many damaging effects of persistent school absences. These can present themselves either in childhood or later life.

Worse Mental Health Outcomes

Being absent from school is thought to be to the detriment of a child’s mental health in the long term. By being distanced from their peers, children can develop feelings of social isolation and anxiety.

This is evident by the number of under-18s being referred to mental health services since the COVID-19 lockdowns. In 2021-2022 this number reached 1.1 million, a 39% increase on the previous year.

School absences are also linked to higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, which can lead to a range of physical and mental health problems.

Greater Risk of Domestic Abuse

The most vulnerable children in our society are likely to be put at greater risk of suffering abuse when they miss school.

When a child attends school, they not only receive an education but also benefit from the support of the teachers, schoolfriends and wider staff. Without these pillars of support in the child’s life, they can become more vulnerable to any risk that might be posed to them in their own home.

A 2017 study carried out by the Department Of Education found that 1 in 5 social care referrals were made by an educational body.

An Increased Likelihood of Criminal Convictions

Recently published data from the ONS (Office Of National Statistics), revealed a strong link between school absences and criminal convictions.

The study focused on children in care who had been born in 1993/1994 and educated in England. By age 24, 71% of those who had been persistently absent from school, had a criminal conviction.

In comparison, 38% of looked after children with good school attendance were convicted of a crime.

Lower Academic Achievement

Unsurprisingly, those who miss large chunks of their schooling go on to receive poorer exam grades. This in turn makes it much harder for children to progress on to higher education and employment.

Government data for the 2018/2019 academic year proved that 83.7% of children with good attendance received grades 9 to 4 in English and Maths.

In contrast, just 35.6% of children with persistent absence from school achieved grades 9 to 4 in these vital core subjects.

Lower Employability Rates

Despite falling in the years prior to the pandemic, the number of young people (16- to 24-year-olds) who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) is on the rise again.

The most recent ONS figures for the third quarter of 2022 revealed that 10.6% of young people in the UK were NEET. That’s up 1.1% from mid-2021.

A rise in school absences is likely to be a contributing factor, due to the link between GCSE attainment and a child’s prospects for work and further education. This is backed up by the findings from an Education Policy Institute report.

The report claims that marginally achieving a grade 4 in English alone, would increase a child’s chances of starting a further education qualification by between 6 and 9%.

What are the Solutions to Address Rising School Absences?

Reversing the upward trend of school absences in the UK is a huge challenge, which not only requires substantial government funding but effective collaboration between local authorities, schools and parents.

Schools Strategy

The Department Of Education has set out their key recommendation for schools and authorities in their “Working Together To Improve School Attendance” paper.

In this document they outline priority steps for schools, which include:

  • Creating a culture that promotes the benefits of high attendance.
  • Having a clear attendance policy in place and an effective process for following up on absences
  • Carrying out regular analysis of absence data to identify those that need the most support.
  • Working closely with pupils with SEN and medical conditions.
  • Building strong relationships with families to understand and overcome barriers.
  • Sharing well maintained data with local authorities so they can do their job more effectively.

Local Authorities Strategy

The government has also laid out specific areas of focus for local authorities. Some of their key recommendations for social care teams include:

  • Using attendance data from all schools in an area to identify priority cohorts/neighbourhoods.
  • Benchmarking against neighbouring authorities and the national average to reveal trends.
  • Maintaining relationships with school leaders and getting their input on attendance practices.
  • Providing whole family support for those whose children are persistently absent.
  • Building data sharing opportunities with different partners to ensure a joined-up approach.

How Can Technology Help Tackle School Absenteeism?

All the evidence and estimates tell us that, now more than ever, local authorities need improved and joined up systems. These connected systems help collect the data they require from schools and external partners, so they can carry out their statutory duties more effectively.

By harnessing the latest digital advancements, child services can build up a full picture of a child’s circumstances and tackle the root cause of their absence.

Making Early Interventions

The sophistication of software for social care teams has come a long way in recent years. Liquidlogic’s leading solution is used by 80 local authorities across the UK.

It brings together a vast wealth of data on a simple user-friendly platform and provides social care professionals with an early insight into the challenges faced by families.

Equipped with a full picture of the family unit, local authorities can make early interventions to address the root cause of school absences. Acting early is often key to preventing the household’s needs becoming more complex.

Analysing Real Time Data

The Liquidlogic solution enables users across education and social care services to analyse real time pupil and school level data, including:

  • Address-based deprivation data
  • Person level characteristics
  • Geographical hotspots for interventions (including social care)
  • Financial implications
  • Evidence-based successes
  • Areas for improvements

This helps teams to maximise council budgets and improve outcomes for families and society in the longer term.

Data Sharing with Local Partners

Relationships between pupils and schools can be strengthened by utilising services such as:

  • Educational psychologists
  • Family support workers
  • Attendance officers
  • School leaders

Liquidlogic solutions bring together data from across children and family services, health services, the person or parents and schools, enabling professionals to make informed decisions quickly.

Fostering a Pro-Active Approach

Our software uses a series of highly user-friendly dashboards. These can be locally configured without the need to wait for reports being created by other teams.

This helps local authorities to get ahead of the curve and helps foster a pro-active rather than reactive approach to their day-to-day duties.

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