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Low-income secondary pupils twice as likely to miss school than wealthier peers

Teach First analysis of new Department for Education (DfE) attendance data reveals a significant gap between low-income pupils and wealthier peers.

  • In 2022-23, poorer secondary school pupils were nearly twice as likely to be absent from school than those from wealthier backgrounds
  • 14.4% of poorer secondary pupils missed school in 2022/23, compared to just 7.3% of their more affluent peers
  • 45% of poorer secondary pupils were persistently absent (those who missed more than 10% of sessions) in 2022-23, compared to just one in five (20.2%) of their wealthier peers

With both major parties committing to tackle the issue of pupil absence ahead of the General Election, new analysis has revealed a stark attendance gap – with secondary school pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) nearly twice as likely to miss school than their wealthier peers.

Analysis of today’s DfE Pupil Absence Data covering the 2022-23 academic year, conducted by education charity Teach First, found the overall absence rate for FSM secondary pupils was 14.4%, compared to just 7.3% for their more affluent peers.

The analysis has also found an alarming growth in the number of FSM-eligible pupils who are persistently absent since the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2022/23, 45% of secondary pupils eligible for free school meals were persistently absent, compared to 28.5% in 2018/19 – an increase of 58%.

As part of the charity’s ongoing efforts to support schools serving disadvantaged communities in England, Teach First will call on the next Government to invest in children’s futures by pledging to increase funding to schools in these areas substantially.

Brilliant teachers remain the key to ensuring young people of every background can thrive. The charity wants to see an increase in investment, enabling schools to attract, recruit and retain brilliant teaching staff.

Teach First CEO Russell Hobby said: “This sharp rise in school absence since the pandemic is incredibly worrying, particularly with our analysis showing that pupils from disadvantaged communities are far more likely to miss school than their wealthier peers.

“We must target investment towards schools serving disadvantaged communities. By providing schools with the funding they need, they can recruit and retain the staff needed, teaching and support staff, to encourage absent pupils to return to the classroom.

“Schools and teachers hold the key to a prosperous future for our country, but we must provide them with proper funding so they can ensure every child is able to reach their full potential.”

Kate Willis, Teach First Ambassador and Headteacher of John Cabot Academy, Bristol, said: “Persistent absence from school can severely impact a child’s prospects. If schools like ours are to continue to ensure that every pupil has what they need to remain and flourish in school, we need the right staff, provisions and funding.

“Ensuring our teachers can build positive relationships with pupils and their families has always been at the heart of everything we do. We have worked together to develop and maintain a clear, strategic commitment that ensures our pupils feel a strong sense of belonging and see themselves as valued members of our community.”

Media contact: For more information, please contact: Ollie Wilson or Jacob Archbold, Media and Campaigns, Teach First,,,

Editors' notes:

  1. About Teach First

    Teach First is an education charity that is committed to giving children facing the biggest barriers the chance to fulfil their potential. It backs the schools with the toughest challenges. The charity finds and trains teachers, develops their leadership teams and plugs them into networks of diverse expertise and opportunities to create real change. Teach First has placed more than 16,000 teachers and leaders, has more than 130 headteachers in its training programme alumni and has supported more than two million pupils.
  2. The DfE Pupil Absence Data for Autumn Term 2022/23 academic year can be viewed here:
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