Klein, Markus (Principal Investigator), & Sosu, Edward (Co-investigator)
Period: 01/09/2018 – 31/03/2022
Significant social inequalities in educational attainment are well-established in Scotland and elsewhere. Closing the poverty-related attainment gap has therefore been identified as the key priority in Scottish education policy. The literature on the mechanisms underpinning socio-economic differences in educational attainment has not yet seriously considered school absenteeism. Yet missing out frequently from school may hinder children’s ability to develop to their full academic potential and may, therefore, be detrimental not only for individuals’ life courses but also for Scotland’s economy and society. Investigating the prevalence, determinants and consequences of school absenteeism in Scottish schools is, therefore, an essential requirement for evidence-based changes in policy and practice.
This project aims to investigate whether differences in school attendance account for social inequalities in educational attainment and post-school destinations among pupils in Scotland. Due to differences in health-related behaviour, residential and school mobility, family structure and environment, and parental employment characteristics, children from lower socio-economic backgrounds may be more frequently absent from school than children from higher socio-economic backgrounds. In turn, missing out on important parts of the curriculum due to lower attendance, truancy, or exclusion may result in lower performance in school exams, decreased likelihood of continuing school after the compulsory schooling age, and lowering the likelihood of progressing to higher education. In addition, we will investigate whether school absenteeism is more detrimental to pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds than to pupils from higher socio-economic backgrounds. Our results will have important implications for policy and practice.
The secondary data analysis will make use of the unique Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS) which links Census data in 2001 and 2011 with administrative School Census and Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) data. The SLS is a large-scale, anonymised linkage study designed to capture 5.5% of the Scottish population based on 20 semi-random birthdates. These large-scale administrative data are unique in providing detailed and accurate information on family background, school attendance and school attainment among secondary pupils in Scotland. The use of administrative data on school attendance is advantageous as it provides more reliable data than survey information.
Our study explores whether, and to what extent, school absenteeism explains socio-economic differences in school performance and post-school destinations among secondary school students. It will provide a novel and comprehensive understanding of whether the type of school absenteeism, such as truancy, exclusion or legitimate absence matters. Finally, it will shed light on whether absenteeism is particularly detrimental for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Part I: SES and school absenteeism
Klein, M., Sosu, E. M., & Dare, S. (2020). Mapping inequalities in school attendance: The relationship between dimensions of socioeconomic status and forms of school absence. Children and Youth Services Review, 118, 105432.
In this paper, we investigated whether and to what extent dimensions of socioeconomic background (parental education, parental class, free school meal registration, housing status, and neighborhood deprivation) predict overall school absences and different reasons for missing school (truancy, sickness, family holidays and temporary exclusion) among 4,620 secondary pupils in Scotland. Participants were drawn from a sample of the Scottish Longitudinal Study comprising linked Census data and administrative school records. Using fractional logit models and logistic regressions, we found that all dimensions of socioeconomic background were uniquely linked to overall absences. Multiple measures of socioeconomic background were also associated with truancy, sickness-related absence and temporary exclusion. Social housing and parental education had the most pervasive effect across these forms of absenteeism.
A research brief based on this paper can be accessed here.
Sosu, E. M., Dare, S., Goodfellow, C., & Klein, M. (2021). Socioeconomic status and school absenteeism: A systematic review and narrative synthesis. Review of Education, 9(3), e3291.
School absenteeism is detrimental to life course outcomes and is known to be socioeconomically stratified. However, the link between socioeconomic status (SES) and school absence is complex given the multidimensional nature of both family SES (e.g., income, education, occupational status) and absenteeism (e.g., truancy, sickness, suspension). Despite the vast literature on socioeconomic inequalities in school attendance, no systematic review on SES and school absenteeism exists. This study systematically reviewed and provides a narrative synthesis of journal articles (n = 55) published between 1998 to 2019 on the association between SES dimensions and forms of absenteeism. The majority of studies from high-income contexts found an association between SES and absenteeism in the expected direction, albeit on average with small effect sizes. Studies largely confirmed these findings among populations at risk of school absence and those from low- and middle-income countries. There was greater evidence for an association between absenteeism and SES measured at the family than the school level. Studies using SES measures of financial resources (e.g., free or reduced-price lunch) provided more evidence for this association than studies measuring sociocultural resources (e.g., parental education). There is limited evidence that socioeconomic achievement gaps in absenteeism vary by the reasons for absence. Research on the mediating pathways between SES and absenteeism is sparse. A key implication is that attempts to address inequalities in educational outcomes must include tackling SES gaps in school attendance.
Paper 3: Covid-19 and school absenteeism
Socioeconomic disparities in school absenteeism after the first wave of COVID-19 school closures in Scotland. Research Report. University of Strathclyde.
Student absences after the first wave of Covid-19 school closures were higher than in previous years
Higher rates of absenteeism after school lockdown were due to COVID-19 related reasons
Overall, non-Covid-19-related absence rates are similar to trends observed in earlier years
Socioeconomic inequalities in school absenteeism were higher post-lockdown than in previous years
This increase can be attributed to rising disparities in school absenteeism due to Covid-19-related and non-Covid-19 reasons
The rise in socioeconomic inequality in non-Covid-19related absenteeism was not only due to higher absence rates among students from the most deprived areas but also due to lower absence rates among students from the least deprived areas
Addressing the disproportionate short- and long-term impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable children needs to be at the forefront of policy agenda
We need greater monitoring and evaluation of inequalities in home learning during the second round of school closures; inequalities in academic achievement after school reopening; policy interventions designed to mitigate the consequences of Covid-19 on achievement gaps.
Part II: School absenteeism and outcomes
School absenteeism and academic achievement: Does the reason for absence matter? Under review
Studies consistently show a detrimental impact of school absences on students’ academic achievement. However, questions remain about whether the consequences for student achievement vary with specific reasons for being absent from school. Considering different forms of absenteeism provides an opportunity for understanding possible mechanisms for their effects on academic achievement. Using a sample of the Scottish Longitudinal Study (n = 4,419), we investigated whether the impact of absenteeism on achievement in high-stakes exams at secondary school varies by reason for absence. We found that truancy, temporary exclusion, and sickness absence had significant adverse effects on academic achievement, while absences due to family holidays and exceptional domestic circumstances did not. These results suggest that, in addition to lost instruction, other mechanisms such as behavioral, health-related, and psychosocial pathways may explain the association between absenteeism and achievement. The findings have implications for designing tailored absenteeism interventions to improve achievement.
The intersection of socioeconomic status and pupil absenteeism in academic achievement: Is there a cumulative risk?
This paper was presented at the SLLS Annual Meeting 2019 in Potsdam (25-27 September 2019), the ISA RC28 Spring Meeting 2021 (online, 02-04 June 2021) and the ECER Annual Conference 2021 (online, 06-10 September 2021)
Is school absenteeism linked to students’ post-school destinations? Evidence from the Scottish Longitudinal Study
This paper was presented at the SLLS Annual Meeting 2021 (online, 20-22 September 2021)