125,000 "Ghost Children": A Closer Look at Absenteeism in England's Education System

In the 2022 Autumn term in England, there were 125,000 "ghost children" who were out of school more than they were in, a figure that had more than doubled since the pandemic. Additionally, at the start of the 2022 school year, 1.7 million children missed the equivalent of a morning a week at school, representing a spike of 84%, and marking the worst set of attendance figures for the Autumn term on record.

Despite the increasing absenteeism among children, there has been little analysis of the root causes. To address this issue, the pupil welfare service in Blackpool has been using their statutory powers to investigate and monitor the attendance of every child in the town. When red flags are raised, the team works closely with families to identify the underlying challenges that are causing children to miss school and provides support to help them overcome these obstacles. They may offer financial assistance for school uniforms or transportation, or connect families with other services to address issues like mental health or housing insecurities. The pupil welfare officers have the power to enforce the law that requires children of school age to attend school, and they are dedicated to creating a positive and supportive environment to help children return to school.

Natasha Armstead, who has been in the office of the Pupil Welfare Service in Blackpool for 23 years, shared that since the beginning of the term, they have carried out 5,000 home visits to parents to inquire about their children's school attendance. The pandemic has had a significant impact on children's attendance, as schools were shut down during the pandemic. Many children have struggled to return to school, and in the case of Charlie, a 13-year-old in Blackpool, he has only been in school for five days in the last two years. Charlie's case highlights the severity of absenteeism among some children, and during the interview with him, he shared that he didn't like school because of the people, teachers, classes, and uniform.

Charlie's case presents a complex issue that requires a delicate approach to address. The pupil welfare service and school officials have been working with Charlie's family to understand the underlying factors causing him to miss school and provide support to address these issues. This involves home visits, discussions with his family, and trying different strategies such as reducing his timetable and teaching him in isolation. However, the school has not agreed to allow Charlie to be homeschooled as he desires, as this would set a precedent that could be difficult to manage. It's crucial to have a collaborative effort among all parties involved to find a solution that works for Charlie and ensure he receives the education he is entitled to.

Charlie's case highlights the range of challenges that parents and children face in getting children to school, which can include personal preferences, anxiety, and even a mismatch between curriculum rigidity and a child's aspirations. In Charlie's case, his family and the pupil welfare service have tried a variety of strategies to address his absenteeism, but finding a solution that works for Charlie has proved difficult. His dad have tried different approaches, including dragging him to school, but these have not been successful. James, his father, believes that the curriculum is too rigid and does not allow for flexibility around his son's aspirations, which ultimately is causing Charlie to resist attending school. This highlights the importance of finding a balance between meeting educational requirements and allowing children to explore their passions, which can help in keeping them engaged and motivated in school.

According to the latest figures from the Department for Education in England, just over 125,000 children were out of school more than they were in for the first term of the academic year. This number includes severely absent children like Charlie, who misses school for prolonged periods, and persistently absent children who miss the equivalent of one morning a week of school. It's concerning that so many children are struggling with attendance, and it highlights the need for continued support and intervention to ensure that all children can access education.


1.       https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/1-7m-pupils-are-regularly-missing-school-csg75rhsm

2.       https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/may/29/government-britain-covid-pupils-absence-long-term-sickness-boris-johnson

3.       https://news.sky.com/story/an-urgent-national-crisis-the-number-of-children-skipping-school-soars-12903220


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