The Times view on schools’ ‘ghost children’: Must Do Better

Ministers are failing to grip the problem of chronic pupil absence

The Times

The pandemic has bequeathed many unwelcome legacies, including long Covid and an increase of some 400,000 working-age people subsisting on long-term sickness benefits. But of equal concern is the rise in the number of so-called ghost children, pupils who are absent from school for at least half of the time. According to the most recent figures, there are 125,000 of them, double the number in the immediate pre-pandemic period. And, like the increase in sickness, this worrying phenomenon is both poorly understood and the subject of government complacency.

Ghost children are those classed as “severely absent”. But the number designated “persistently absent” is far bigger. These are pupils who miss more than a tenth of their allotted school time, and there are no fewer than