Student absenteeism

Other Names:
Unauthorized absences from school classes
Irregular school attendance
Erratic student attendance
Inadequate enforcement of school attendance
Poor school attendance
Student disaffection with school

Educational systems are increasingly experienced as unsatisfactory by a significant proportion of students. Whether or not they play truant, they leave with pleasure. Teachers are unable to make their classes interesting enough to hold the attention of pupils and maintain their motivation, in part because lack of resources prevents teachers from presenting exciting material, in part because of the subjects being taught (with mathematics, languages, science and physical education as most disliked). Schools may also be hampered by larger class sizes and an assessment system which discourages participating by labelling students as failures.


In the UK in 1989, it was estimated that 20% of schools experience serious truancy problems. In the inner cities 25% of secondary schools are losing 10% of their senior pupils; 12% of schools had absentee rates of more than 20%. Only 48% of pupils claimed that they had never played truant. 5% of teenagers was defined as a serious truant, missing school for several days, or even weeks, with the proportion doubled in inner city schools. Attendance rates of 70 to 80% were common among 15 and 16-year olds, with some pupils losing as much as 50% of their senior pupils. 70% of the inner city students admitting to truancy finally left school without any examination passes and were more likely to be unemployed.

In 1993, another UK survey found that, overall, boys truanted twice as often as girls. One third of 16-year olds had missed lessons at least once in the previous half term, one in five because they want to miss a particular lesson. One in 10 of all pupils were truanting at least once a week. Much of this is what is termed "post-registration truancy" and may not involve students actually leaving the school premises – levels of "off-school" truants of schools in poor areas was almost 3 times that for truants in affluent area schools. (Otherwise, there was not a large difference in truancy levels overall between schools in poor and affluent areas.) Two-thirds of truants questions found school "generally enjoyable" or were neutral in their attitude. Reasons given by lesson truants for avoiding classes were (a) irrelevant lessons (34% of those surveyed); (b) dislike of teacher (29%); (c) dislike of subject (22%); (d) coursework problems (19%); (e) difficulty with subject (14%); (f) poor teaching (3%) and (g) bullying (1%). Peer pressure, home problems or depression all came low (less than 1%). There was almost no evidence that truanting is involved with crime.

In the Neapolitan area of Italy in 1992, it was estimated that up to 30% of pupils enrolled in high schools may be staying away from school regularly. Many are believed to be exploited by underworld clans as drug runners. In 1994 in Philadelphia, with the nation's fourth highest truancy rate, 27,000 of the 191,000 school pupils were reported as truants on any one day.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST