Attendance statistical release

On 23 March 2017, the Department for Education published their statistical first release of pupil absence in schools in England 2015/2016. The report highlights that overall absence, across state-funded primary schools, secondary and special schools, has remained the same at 4.6% and has stayed at this level since 2013/14.

By Education Welfare and Safeguarding Team on 21 Apr 2017


On 23 March 2017, the Department for Education published their statistical first release of pupil absence in schools in England 2015/2016.

The report highlights that overall absence, across state-funded primary schools, secondary and special schools, has remained the same at 4.6% and has stayed at this level since 2013/14, (see Table 1). Prior to 2013/14, overall absence rates had been reducing year on year since 2006/07, when it was 6.5%.

In 2015/16, total absence remained the lowest in state-funded primary schools (4%) with 5.2% in secondary schools and 9.1% in special schools. (Pupil absence in schools in England: 2015/16, DfE).


Illness remains the most common reason for absence, heavily influencing overall absence rates. Overall absence due to illness dropped slightly to 2.6% in 2015/16 compared with 2.8% in 2014/15 and accounted for 80.8% of all absence.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, overall absence due to family holidays in 2015/16 was up on the previous year (authorised and unauthorised) accounting for 8.2% of all absences compared to 7.5% the year before. 14.7% of pupil enrolments in 2015/16 had missed at least one session for family holidays which is an increase from 13.8% in 2014/15.

There has been a remarkable amount of press coverage this academic year around absence due to holidays following the high profile case of John Platt. He won a landmark case after being prosecuted for taking his daughter out of school to go to Disneyland in 2015, only to have the ruling overturned in the Supreme Court this April (2017). It will be interesting to see the impact of this on the 2016/17 absence data.

Another impact on absence in 2015/16 is that Eid fell in term-time. As a result, authorised absence increased due to religious observance of pupils in state-funded primary, secondary and special schools during 2015/16 peaking at 9.1% of overall absence, compared to 4.9% in 2014/15.


Pupils with a statement of special educational needs and those with an education health care plan had an overall absence rate of 7.7% compared to 4.2% absence of those with no identified SEND.

21.6% of pupil enrolments known to be eligible for claiming free school meals, were persistently absent compared to 8.2% of pupil enrolments who were not eligible for free school meals.

Among ethnic groups, the highest overall absence rates were seen for Traveller of Irish Heritage at 17.9% and Gypsy/Roma at 12.7%. However, the DfE advises caution when comparing absence data for Travellers of Irish Heritage, because this cohort is much smaller than any other ethnic group.

Enrolments of Chinese and Black African ethnicity had the lowest overall absence at 2.4% and 3% respectively. Pakistani pupil enrolments had the largest increase in overall absence rates from 4.9% in 2014/15 to 5.4% in 2015/16. (Pupil absence in schools in England: 2015/16, DfE).

The persistent absence rates for pupil enrolments living in the most deprived areas was three times higher than the rate for those living in the least deprived areas, (Pupil absence in schools in England: 2015/16, DfE).

PUPIL REFERRAL UNIT ABSENCE The overall absence rate in 2015/16 for pupil referral units was 32.6%, an increase from 31.5% in 2014/15. Persistent absentees within this category increased to 72.5% in 2015/16 compared with 70.6% in 2014/15.


Persistent absence accounted for 36.6% of overall absence in 2015/16 compared with 37.4% in 2014/15. Again this follows a downward trend from 40.5% in 2012/13 when data first started to be collected over six half terms as opposed to over five.

Overall absence for persistent absentees was 17.6%, which the DfE reports is nearly four times higher than for all pupils. Persistent absentees account for almost a third of all authorised absence and more than half of all unauthorised absence. (Pupil absence in schools in England: 2015/16, DfE).


It goes without saying that persistent absence can have a major impact on overall attendance figures in schools. When dealing with long-term persistent absentees for non-medical reasons, school should undertake high impact and intensive casework with the families, children and young people concerned. As referred to in Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) from the DfE, Early Help should be offered where any additional needs are identified which can be met by universal services. If the relationship between school and the child young/person and their family has broken down, consider utilising external agencies to mediate.

Where there are safeguarding concerns or a persistent lack of engagement, a referral should be made to social care under the category of educational neglect.

When making a referral, always attach any previous referrals to strengthen the case. Include evidence of any attempts to work with and support the family and explain how a lack of education is impacting on the child’s development, using evidence from observations and interactions.

Practitioners should refer to the assessment framework from Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 and make clear:

  • How is poor attendance impacting on the child’s education and emotional and behavioural development? What evidence do you have to support this?
  • How does the child behave when in school? Are there any concerns? What risk assessments have been put in place?
  • Where is the child or young person when they are absent from school? Is there anything that is impacting on the child attending school, for example changes in family circumstances etc? What have you done to support the family, child or young person?
  • How is poor attendance putting the child at risk? E.g. risk of child sexual exploitation, gangs, drugs/alcohol misuse, online exploitation, neglect, emotional abuse etc.
  • How does the parent interact with the child? Are there any concerns? If so, what evidence do you have?
  • What are your observations of the child or young person? Do you have any other safeguarding concerns? What are they?
  • Include anything else that concerns you.

Always consider whether the evidence you are providing is in fact hearsay, and whether it may be more appropriate to submit a joint referral to support the case.

If a social worker is already allocated to the family, ensure you provide them with regular updates, particularly if there is little or no improvement. Never assume they will already know.

Where all other interventions fail and there are no safeguarding concerns, consider referring the case for consideration of prosecution if it meets your local authority’s criteria.

For further advice and support about school attendance and safeguarding contact the team on 0844 967 1111.

Please get in touch or visit this page for more information.


Our specialist safeguarding team work with schools and academies to help ensure their safeguarding arrangements are nothing less than outstanding.

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