The Impact of Absence on Children in Education

Education is a fundamental right for every child, and it plays a pivotal role in shaping their future - a cornerstone of a child's development. The impact of absence from school on children cannot be overstated. Whether it's due to illness, family emergencies, or other reasons, sporadic, prolonged, or frequent absence from school can have far-reaching consequences on a child's academic progress, social development, and overall well-being. You may have seen articles in the news showcasing the results of a YouGov poll that suggests that 1 in 3 parents do not see the need for their child to attend school every day. Head of Pastoral Miss Jones blogs about the impact of children missing school and provides some useful advice for parents.

Every school day missed is a piece of the puzzle lost, a thread of opportunity left unexplored. Consistency in attendance is more than a routine; it’s a lifeline that connects a child to a world of possibilities. Think about it – each day presents a chance to learn something new, to engage in discussions that spark creativity, and to build skills that will shape a future.

Despite the legal requirements and the UK government's efforts to improve attendance rates, school absence remains a prevalent issue in the country. Data from the Department for Education reveals that in the 2019-2020 academic year, overall absence rates in state-funded primary and secondary schools stood at 4.6%, equivalent to over half a million pupils missing school for extended periods. While some of these absences were due to ‘uncontrollable’ reasons, a significant portion can be attributed to ‘controllable’ reasons. The most recent final absence rate data that has been published is for Autumn term 2022/23 when it was 7.5%. This is the highest Autumn term rate recorded since comparable data was published in 2016/17. In the years before the pandemic, the Autumn term absence rate was fairly stable.

Beyond the curriculum, school attendance cultivates discipline and responsibility. It teaches the invaluable lesson of commitment, preparing children for the realities of life were showing up, being present, and participating matters.

One of the most immediate and direct consequences of school absence is its adverse effect on a child's academic achievement. Regular attendance is crucial for students to keep up with the curriculum, understand key concepts, and complete assignments. When a child is frequently absent, they miss out on vital classroom instruction, which can lead to gaps in their knowledge and skill development. Copying up missed work does not capture the full educational experience or the wealth of knowledge gained from the classroom interactions that take place.

These gaps can be particularly detrimental in subjects that build upon prior knowledge, such as mathematics and science. As children fall behind, they may struggle to catch up, leading to a cycle of academic underachievement. Research has shown a strong correlation between absenteeism and lower test scores, which can ultimately impact a child's future educational and career opportunities.

Even in year groups without formal external assessments, the negative impact of absence on attainment has been starkly illustrated, even before COVID. On average, pupils with higher absence over key stage 2 had lower attainment in their assessments in academic year 2018/19.

The impact of absence on children in the UK extends beyond academics. Frequent absenteeism can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection from school and peers. Moreover, children may experience anxiety about falling behind or struggling to fit in when they return to school. This anxiety can be a significant barrier to their engagement and overall well-being. For us, attendance isn't just about being present; it's about the richness of classroom interactions, the spark of curiosity ignited during lessons, and the friendships blossoming in shared experiences. Regular attendance fosters social skills and emotional resilience. Through consistent attendance, children develop crucial social bonds, learn to collaborate, resolve conflicts, and build empathy – skills that are fundamental for navigating the complexities of adulthood. 

As parents, your role in nurturing good attendance is paramount. From establishing routines to communicating openly with the school, your guidance shapes your child's perspective on the importance of education and attendance. Here are some strategies and tips for parents to promote good attendance:

  • Establish a Routine: Maintain a regular daily routine, including consistent wake-up times, mealtimes, and bedtime. Having a structured schedule helps children get ready for school and reduces the likelihood of tardiness or absence.
  • Communicate with the School: Establish open lines of communication with your child's school. Inform the school promptly if your child is going to be absent due to illness or other legitimate reasons. 
  • Plan Appointments Wisely: Whenever possible, schedule doctor's appointments and other family obligations outside of school hours. If it's unavoidable, try to schedule them during breaks or after school to minimise missed class time. The same is true of term time holidays. These are disruptive to your child’s education.
  • Lead by Example: Demonstrate the importance of education by showing enthusiasm for learning and valuing school attendance. Your attitude towards school can influence your child's perspective. 
  • Set Expectations: Clearly communicate your expectations regarding school attendance. Let your child know that going to school is non-negotiable unless they are genuinely sick or have an excused absence. Foster a positive attitude toward school by praising your child's efforts and achievements. Help them build positive relationships with teachers and peers.
  • Talk About the Consequences: Discuss with your child the consequences of excessive absenteeism, such as falling behind in school, missing out on social interactions, and the potential impact on future opportunities.

Further statistics showing the impact of absence on attainment:

On average, pupils with higher absence over key stage 4 had lower GCSE attainment in 2019 (pre-COVID). Pupils who did not achieve grades 9-4 in English and maths GCSEs in 2019 had an absence rate of 8.8%, compared with 5.2% among pupils who achieved grade 4 in both subjects, and 3.7% among pupils who achieved grade 5 or above. Pupils who were persistently or severely absent (who missed more than 10% and 50% respectively of possible school sessions) had lower average attainment. 35.6% of persistently absent pupils, and just 11.3% of severely absent pupils achieved grades 9-4 in English and maths (compared to 67.6% of all pupils).

Head of Pastoral Lorraine Jones






Lorraine Jones - Head of Pastoral