Scotland's shockingly high school absence rates must be tackled as a matter of 'national importance' – Scotsman comment

Scotland risks creating a generation of young people who think they can take a day off whenever they feel like it

New figures showing nearly a third of Scottish pupils were absent from school at least one day every fortnight – rising to about 40 per cent in the last three years of secondary – are deeply worrying. As Keir Bloomer, chair of the Commission on School Reform which compiled the figures, rightly said, “school absence is a matter of national importance”.

He warned that children who miss school were less likely to do well in exams or form good relationships and also more likely to be disruptive at home and in the classroom. “It is impossible for a child to reach their full potential with this level of absence,” Bloomer added.

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The figures are substantially worse than before the Covid pandemic and this certainly seems to have had an impact, with parents more likely to accept that their children do not want to go. There is also a social trend in which people’s feelings and emotions are valued above things like discipline and hard work. Scotland may have overdone the latter two qualities in the past, but there are risks associated with going too far the other way.

Instilling children with a sense of rigour and the idea that it is important to simply turn up to fulfil a commitment you have made will stand them in good stead for later in life. Failing to do so risks creating a generation of young people who are unwilling to apply themselves and think that they can take a day off whenever they feel like it. In a country with already worryingly low rates of productivity, that should be a real concern.

This is not just a matter for parents and pupils. Those involved in education policy should be looking at the experiences of other countries to find ways to make school a place where children actually want to be. This is easy to say, harder to do, but harnessing young people’s natural curiosity could be at least part of the solution.

But whatever is done, for the good of the nation, the current situation must be addressed before it gets out of hand.

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