Figure of 100,000 children missing from school is out of date

16 July 2021
What was claimed

100,000 children have not returned to school since the start of the pandemic.

Our verdict

This is not a current figure, so we can’t use it to describe how many pupils have remained absent from school since the start of the pandemic. The Centre for Social Justice found 93,514 pupils missed more than 50% of school sessions between September to December 2020.

“Almost 100,000 ‘ghost children’ have not returned to school since the start of the Covid pandemic”. 

An Evening Standard article claims that “almost 100,000 ‘ghost children’ have not returned to school since [the] start of [the] Covid pandemic”. 

We have fact checked the use of this figure before. It is based on a report produced by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), which states that during September to December 2020, 93,514 pupils in England were severely absent, which means they missed school more often than they attended. This does not include pupils who missed lessons directly due to Covid-19, for example, school bubble closures.

As the figure is now quite old, it tells us nothing about attendance during the spring and summer terms so it is not accurate to say that “nearly 100,000 children have failed to return to school full-time since they reopened [our emphasis]”, as stated in the article.

The phrasing that these children “have not returned to school” is also problematic. The CSJ found 100,000 children attended less than 50% of available sessions in the autumn term, not that they weren’t present at school at all. 

Finally, the idea that these children have failed to “return” is inaccurate, in suggesting that these children (or this many equivalent children) were regularly attending school before the pandemic, which is not the case. 

Even before Covid-19, in the autumn term of 2019, 60,244 pupils were classed as severely absent. The number of severely absent children has risen by more than 50% in a year, a significant increase, but it’s important to bear in mind that the factors contributing to the absence of a large number of these children may not be related to, or at least dependent on, Covid-19. 

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