School Attendance Print or save as PDF

How is it defined?

School attendance refers to “regular attendance at any regular accredited educational institution or program, public or private, for organised learning at any level of education” (United Nations, 2008). The literature places greater emphasis on school nonattendance, which includes both authorized absence, as is the case when children are ill, and unauthorized absence, or truancy, when children miss school without permission (Willms, 2014).

The Learning Bar’s framework on student engagement includes measures of social, institutional, and intellectual engagement. The Learning Bar’s measures of institutional engagement, which refers to a students’ active participation in the formal requirements of schooling, include valuing school outcomes, homework behaviour, student behaviour, and school attendance.

Why is it important?

  • Truancy is negatively associated with student performance (Willms, 2003).
  • School attendance is one of the best predictors of school completion. Students that have a pattern of nonattendance or truancy early in their school career are more likely to be truant during the secondary school years (Rumberger, 1995).
  • Truancy is also linked to disruptive behaviour, negative dispositions towards school, and poor outcomes later in life (Baker, Sigmon, & Nugent, 2001).
  • Truancy poses problems not only for the student, but also for the truant individual’s school, family, and community (Henry, 2007).
  • Schools vary in their attendance rates, even after taking account of students’ family backgrounds (Willms, 2003).

How do we measure it?

The OurSCHOOL measure of school attendance is based on a measure of truancy developed for PISA (Willms, 2003). In the OurSCHOOL secondary school survey, students respond to Likert questions asking how often during the past four weeks they have skipped classes or missed days at school without permission, or arrived late for school or classes. The scores are scaled with the greatest weight placed on missing days of school, and the least weight placed on arriving late for school or classes. The results are reported as ‘the percentage of students that regularly truant’ or its inverse, “the percentage of students that have positive school attendance”.


Baker, M. L., Sigmon, J. N., & Nugent M. E. (2001).  Truancy reduction: Keeping students in school.  Juvenile Justice Bulletin, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Washington, D.C.

Henry, K. L. (2007). Who’s skipping school: Characteristics of truants in 8th and 10th grade. Journal of School Health77, 29-35.

Rumberger, R.W. (1995). Dropping out of middle school: A multilevel analysis of students and schools. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 583–625.

United Nations (2008). Principles and recommendations for population and housing censuses, revision 2. New York: United Nations.

Willms, J. D. (2003). Student engagement at school: A sense of belonging and participation. Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Willms, J. D. (2014) School Attendance. In A.C. Michalos (ed.), Encyclopedia of Quality of Life Research (pp. 5685-5687). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer Publishing.