Press release

Short breaks damage young people’s futures

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

Research based on pupil absence and exam results data reveals the link between attendance and achievement.

Even short breaks from school can reduce a pupil’s chances of succeeding at school by as much as a quarter, research reveals today (22 February 2015).

The research, based on extensive pupil absence figures and both GCSE and primary school test results, highlights the importance of clamping down on pupil absence to ensure more pupils regularly attend school, and ultimately leave with the qualifications needed to succeed in modern Britain.

It shows 44% of pupils with no absence in key stage 4 (normally aged 16) achieve the English Baccalaureate - the gold standard package of GCSE qualifications that includes English, maths, science, history or geography and a language - opening doors to their future. But this figure falls by a quarter to just 31.7% for pupils who miss just 14 days of lessons over the 2 years that pupils study for their GCSEs, which equates to around 1 week per year, and to 16.4% for those who miss up to 28 days.

The same pattern is also seen at primary school level, where pupils missing up to just 14 days of school in key stage 2 (normally age 11) are a quarter less likely to achieve level 5 or above in reading, writing or maths tests than those with no absence.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

The myth that pulling a child out of school for a holiday is harmless to their education has been busted by this research. Today heads across the country have been vindicated - missing school can have a lasting effect on a pupil’s life chances.

This is why we are doing all we can to encourage more pupils back into class by toughening up on term-time holidays and attendance. Heads and teachers are now firmly back in charge of their classrooms thanks to our plan for education and new flexibility over term dates allow them to set term breaks outside of peak times.

Fewer pupils than ever before now regularly skip class, while more pupils than ever before are leaving school with a place in education, employment or training.

But today’s research shows we must never slip in our mission to ensure all pupils leave school properly prepared for life in modern Britain.

Patsy Kane, Executive Headteacher of both Whalley Range and Levenshulme High Schools in Manchester, said:

This evidence underlines the fact that every day really does count and that missing school has a big impact on achieving the subjects that transform young people’s lives. In my experience ensuring proper attendance is vital - and more and more young people and parents are realising that even short breaks can harm their grades.

The research also highlights the striking differences in achievement between pupils with the best and worst attendance records. It shows:

  • pupils with the lowest 5% of absence rates were more than 4 times more likely to achieve 5 good GCSEs, including English and maths, and 22 times more likely to achieve the English Baccalaureate, than pupils with the highest 5% of absence rates
  • pupils with no absence from school were nearly 3 times more likely to achieve 5 A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths, and around 10 times more likely to achieve the English Baccalaureate, than pupils missing 15 to 20% of school across key stage 4
  • primary school pupils with no absence were around 1.5 times more likely to achieve the expected level (level 4 or above), and 4.5 times more likely to achieve above the expected level (level 5 or above), than pupils that missed 15 to 20% of key stage 2

The government’s plan for education includes a number of reforms to encourage good behaviour and attendance in school, including:

  • changing the law so that headteachers only grant leave from school in exceptional circumstances
  • encouraging schools to tackle the problem of persistent absence earlier by reducing the threshold by which absence is defined as persistent from 20% to 15% from October 2011 - this means schools are held to a higher standard in performance tables than before
  • making clear teachers can use ‘reasonable force’ to maintain behaviour and extending their searching powers from 2011
  • allowing teachers to impose same-day detentions from 2011

The most recent absence data shows that school absence is at its lowest rate on record. Figures for the autumn and spring terms of the 2013 to 2014 academic year show that:

  • 176,850 fewer pupils persistently missed school than in the same period in 2009 to 2010, a reduction from 439,105 to 262,255 - this is the lowest level since comparable records began
  • 10.1 million fewer school days were lost to absence than in the same period in 2009 to 2010, from 45.8 million to 35.7 million - the lowest level since comparable records began
  • the overall rate of absence was 4.4% compared to 6% in the same period in 2009 to 2010 - again the lowest level since comparable records began
  • almost 1 million fewer school days were lost to term-time holidays - from 3.3 million in the same period last year to 2.5 million this year

Notes to editors

  1. These findings are based on key stage 2 and key stage 4 attainment data for the 2012 to 2013 academic year and absence data for that and preceding years.
  2. Pupil absence is one factor that may affect achievement; other factors that may also impact on achievement include background characteristics like free school meals (FSM) status.

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