Press release

New data highlights true picture of school absence

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Information on absenteeism in schools.

New figures released today show that 450,330 children - 7.2% - were absent from school for 15% or more of the autumn 2010 and spring 2011 terms. This is the equivalent of missing a month’s worth of lessons in a year.

The figures also reveal that more than a million pupils (16.4%) missed half a day or more of school per week, equating to 10% of school time missed.

This is the first time that a new, tougher, persistent absence measure has been recorded, giving a clearer picture of the problem in our schools. Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that the new figures revealed the worrying extent of long-term absence from school in England. The figures have also failed to improve on last year.

Children who miss 15% or more of school time are now recorded as persistent absentees. Previously, children had to miss 20% of school to be viewed as persistent absentees. This is equivalent to more than six weeks of missed lessons in a school year.

With this new threshold, the government is asking schools to step in to tackle absence sooner - before the problem really takes hold.

The latest figures show that, compared to autumn term 2009 and spring term 2010:

  • Across state-funded primary schools and secondary schools, the percentage of pupils classed as persistent absentees increased, from 7.0% to 7.2%
  • In state-funded primary schools, the percentage of pupils classed as persistent absentees increased, from 5.0% to 5.2%
  • In state-funded secondary schools, the percentage of pupils classed as persistent absentees increased, from 9.3% to 9.5%

Previously, some schools did not take action until a pupil missed 20% or more of school. This was simply too late.

Ministers will continue to look at the possibility of further lowering the threshold over time.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

Today’s figures reveal the worrying extent of absenteeism in our schools. It is unacceptable that more than 450,000 pupils are missing the equivalent of a month of lessons a year. Even one day missed from school without very good reason is one too many.

Children who are absent for substantial parts of their education fall behind and struggle to catch up. By lowering the threshold, we are encouraging schools to crack down on absence before the problem escalates.

Persistent absence is a serious problem. Much of the work children miss when they are off school is never made up, leaving them at a considerable disadvantage to their peers. There is clear evidence of a link between poor attendance at school and low levels of achievement:

  • Of pupils who miss more than 50% of school, only 3% manage to achieve five A* to Cs, including English and maths
  • Of pupils who miss between 10% and 20% of school, only 35% manage to achieve five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths
  • Of pupils who miss less than 5% of school, 73% achieve 5 A* to Cs, including English and maths

The Department for Education is continuing to publish the old threshold alongside the new one - highlighting the true scale of persistent absence in England. In addition it has also released, for the first time, national figures showing the numbers of pupils who miss 12.5, 10 and 5% of lessons.

The government’s expert adviser on behaviour, Charlie Taylor, said:

Schools know all too well what a harmful effect poor attendance can have on a child’s future prospects. We know that great efforts have been made to get absence down in schools. But as these figures show there are still too many pupils missing too many lessons.

I know, in my experience as a headteacher, that the earlier poor patterns of attendance are addressed by schools, the less likely it is that it will become a persistent issue. This is why good primary schools take a zero tolerance approach to poor attendance from the very start of school life.

Ofsted allows for flexibility around the inspection of attendance and the individual circumstances of pupils with good reason to be off school will not affect the final judgement. For example, there are pupils who are off school for long periods of time for medical reasons. Schools should also not be penalised for the absence of genuinely sick children.

Ofsted will continue to take into account the number of pupils over the ‘persistently absent’ threshold when looking at a school’s performance on attendance. They will explore ways of taking this new threshold into account in the 2012 framework, which is due to come into effect from January 2012.

Notes to editors:

  1. The statistics for pupil absence in schools in England: autumn term 2010 and spring term 2011 can be found on this page.

  2. Year on year comparisons for the statistical release should be made with caution. There were a greater number of sessions available in the 2009/10 term than in the 2010/11 term.

  3. Today’s figures show that, for autumn term 2010 and spring term 2011, compared to autumn term 2009 and spring term 2010:

Overall absence

  • The overall absence rate across state-funded primary and secondary schools decreased, from 6.0% to 5.8%, continuing the recent trend
  • The overall absence rate in state-funded primary schools decreased, from 5.3% to 5.1%, continuing the recent trend
  • The overall absence rate in state-funded secondary schools decreased, from 6.8% to 6.5%, continuing the trend

Authorised absence

  • The authorised absence rate across state-funded primary and secondary schools decreased, from 5.0% to 4.8%, continuing the recent trend
  • The authorised absence rate in state-funded primary schools decreased, from 4.7% to 4.4%, the second consecutive decrease
  • The authorised absence rate in state-funded secondary schools decreased, from 5.4% to 5.1%, continuing the trend

Unauthorised absence

  • The unauthorised absence rate across state-funded primary and secondary schools was 1.0%, there has been marginal change in recent years
  • The unauthorised absence rate in state-funded primary schools was 0.7%, very similar to the previous two years
  • The unauthorised absence rate in state-funded secondary schools remained at 1.4%. The rate has changed little in recent years

Reason for Absence

  • The most commonly reported reason for absence was ‘illness (not medical or dental appointments)’, the same as in the previous year, which accounted for 61% of all absence
  • Absence for family holidays accounted for 9% of all absence, similar to the previous year

Absence by Pupil Characteristics

  • The rate of overall absence for those pupils eligible for free school meals (8.4%) remained higher than that for all pupils (5.8%)
  • For pupils with special educational needs, the highest rate of overall absence continued to be amongst those pupils at School Action Plus (8.9%). This was higher than that for those pupils with no identified special educational needs (SEN) (5.2%)

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