Improving attendance in Scotland: Summary findings

Engagement is as important as attendance

Attendance is defined as participation in a programme of educational activities arranged and agreed by the school. This includes:

  • attendance at school
  • learning outwith school provided by a college or other learning provider
  • educational, day and residential visits to outdoor centres
  • interviews and events relating to further and higher education or careers
  • debates, sports, music or drama activities arranged through school
  • study leave for pupils participating in national exams
  • tuition while in hospital or outreach teaching services
  • work experience

Children and young people may be in school but disengaged from learning. Attendance, combined with engagement should support children and young people to make progress in their learning and have a positive impact on their educational outcomes.

All absence can affect progress

Progress, attainment and achievements can be impacted by any absence. Evidence suggests that attendance that falls below 90% can have a negative impact on progress. The higher the absence rate, the greater the impact on attainment.

Certain groups are more vulnerable to low attendance

These groups include:

  • those impacted by poverty
  • secondary-aged pupils
  • young people from Gypsy and Traveller communities
  • pupils with additional support needs
  • children and young people who have experienced care
  • young carers
  • children and young people who have experienced exclusion
  • anxious children and young people

The causes of absence are multifaceted

The causes of absence are multifaceted. Forth Valley and West Lothian Regional Improvement Collaborative (2022) categorise the main causes of absence as:

  • individual
  • peer
  • family
  • school

Children and young people may have absences which relate to more than one of these factors at the same time. Sampled authorities and schools cited individual factors, in particular, wellbeing and social difficulties as the greatest factors contributing to absence.


Themes of culture, systems, and practice can provide helpful structures when considering approaches to improving attendance and engagement.

When planning an attendance strategy, it is worth considering the themes of culture, systems, and practice and how these impact on attendance. These should be considered as cogs which are interdependent.

Schools should work in partnership with families

Schools should work in partnership with families to ensure that effective communication and support are in place to remove barriers that impact on attendance. The positive benefits of using home link workers or third sector organisations to support this process was evident in several examples where gains were being made.

Early warning systems should initiate intervention

Effective systems to track and monitor attendance ensure early intervention is triggered. This is essential to avoid lengthier absences which often require more complex interventions. All absence should be followed up in line with child protection purposes.

Attendance is a priority for all local authorities

In the context of the Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC), all LAs have included attendance as a core stretch aim for health and wellbeing for the next three years. As part of their analysis, twenty-five LAs have a strategic plan to improve attendance.

Fifteen of the eighteen schools sampled included improving attendance in their school improvement plans. Three Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) have included improving attendance in their improvement plans, with one other maintaining work from the previous year.

There is variation in how data is used to support attendance

There appears to be significant variations across Scotland in how data is used to identify children and young people who require support and the thresholds that trigger support.