Skip to main content

What are ‘ghost children’ and why is school attendance important?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Attendance, Schools

School is the best environment for pupils to learn in. Being in school helps keep children safe and supports them to reach their potential, while being surrounded by teachers and friends.

That’s why we’re committed to tackling the factors causing children to miss school. Here, we tell you what you need to know about school attendance 

What are ‘ghost children’?                                                                               

‘Ghost children’ isn’t an official government term, but the media often uses it to refer to children who are not regularly attending school.

When the media refer to ghost children, they may mean children of school age, who are not registered pupils at a school and not receiving suitable education, such as adequate home-schooling.

The media may also include children who are registered at school but are persistently or severely absent.

What about children who are persistently or severely absent?

Children who are registered at a school but regularly fail to turn up are officially referred to as being ‘persistently’ or ‘severely’ absent.

The school day is split in to two sessions – one session counts as a morning or afternoon spent in school. Pupils who have missed more than 10% of school sessions are persistently absent, while children who have missed more than 50% of school sessions are severely absent.

It’s encouraging that the number of absent pupils has fallen since the pandemic, but there is still work to do. That is why we’re introducing measures to improve school attendance.

Is it true that all persistently absent children go on to commit crimes?

It is important not to draw the conclusion that persistent absence drives crime.

Some children go on to become persistently absent after an offence has taken place and for others, factors including pupil risks could play a role.

Our analysis shows that only 2% of students who finished KS4 between 2012/13 - 2017/18 and had ever been persistently absent were children who were cautioned or sentenced with a serious violence offence.

What are we doing to improve school attendance?

We’re supporting schools to boost attendance through a range of initiatives, set out in our recent attendance strategy and guidance. This includes a new data visualisation tool which makes it easier for teachers to analyse attendance, and the formation of an Attendance Action Alliance of national education and care leaders who are working together to target the reasons behind poor attendance.

We’re now building on this through the expansion of our Attendance Hubs programme. These are networks of schools that share best practice and practical resources with each other to help drive up attendance rates. For example, the Hubs might support schools to roll out automatic text messaging to parents when pupils have not showed up at school, or to improve the use of data to identify children at risk of poor attendance.

On top of this, we’re expanding our Attendance Mentors programme. Delivered by children’s charity Barnardo’s, the programme targets areas of the country with the highest levels of pupil absence, with trained mentors working directly with persistently and severely absent children and their families to identify barriers to attendance and support them back into school.

We’re also collecting evidence to inform future policy on children who are not registered at school or receiving suitable home education. This will help us to identify best practice and effective ways to make sure all children are receiving an appropriate education.

Altogether, these measures will aim to improve attendance, leading to better attainment and mental wellbeing amongst school children.

Why is attendance important?

Being in school is important to your child’s achievement, wellbeing, and wider development. Evidence shows that the students with the highest attendance throughout their time in school gain the best GCSE and A level results.

Our research found that pupils who performed better both at the end of primary and secondary school missed fewer days than those who didn’t perform as well. For example, data from 2019 shows that 84% of Key Stage 2 pupils who had 100% attendance achieved the expected standard, compared to 40% of pupils who were persistently absent across the key stage.

What about children who are home-educated?

If you take your child out of school to educate them at home, your local authority will begin making enquiries as to whether that education is suitable.

Currently, local authorities are encouraged to keep a record of children in the area who are educated somewhere other than at a school. We plan to make it compulsory for local authorities to do this.

While most home education is of good quality, this will help us spot and support children where their education falls short, making sure all children have the opportunity to learn and thrive.

Sharing and comments

Share this page