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More focus needed on reasons for school absence, study finds

Researchers looked at school absenteeism (David Jones/PA)
Researchers looked at school absenteeism (David Jones/PA)

More consideration should be given to the reasons pupils miss classes as all types of absence have a negative impact on exam attainment, according to research.

The study, led by the University of Strathclyde, challenged previous assumptions that unexcused absences were more harmful than excused absences.

Researchers examined the individual impact on pupils’ exam results of absence for various reasons, including truancy, sickness and exceptional domestic circumstances such as bereavement.

They found that all school absences are detrimental to educational attainment in national exams at the end of compulsory (S4) and post-compulsory schooling (S5/S6) in Scotland.

The study calls for equal emphasis to be placed on tackling all forms of school absence, and said that research and interventions need to consider the reason for absence and focus on mitigating the harmful consequences of children missing school.

Dr Markus Klein, from Strathclyde’s School of Education and a co-author of the study, said: “Previous research on this subject mainly looked at absences overall and did not differentiate the reasons.

“Some considered unauthorised and authorised absences, but we see these definitions as too broad.

“Unauthorised absences are typically the main interest of policy but it shouldn’t be only these that are considered, as sickness absences can be as detrimental to pupils’ attainment. We did not find any statistically significant differences between absences in their negative effect on attainment.

“It’s important to mitigate the harmful consequences of absences but further research will be needed into the relationships between specific forms of absenteeism and academic achievement.”

Data for the study came from the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS), a large-scale study linking various administrative and statistical data in Scotland.

The research was carried out in partnership with the General Teaching Council for Scotland and Poverty Alliance Scotland.

Dr Edward Sosu, a Reader in Strathclyde’s School of Education and a co-author of the study, said: “If we want to address absence through sickness or truancy, we have to address the missing of school itself but also some of the underlying reasons such as health, behaviour or psychosocial aspects.

“The reasons for absenteeism are complex and a more nuanced approach is needed, with more comprehensive forms of intervention.”

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, which is part of UK Research and Innovation, and has been published in the journal AERA Open.

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