Trends in Pupil Absence Rates


By Guest Writer
on 06 November, 2016

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Attendance Trends and the Impact on Attainment

Just before half term, 20 October 2016, the DfE released the first statistical data for 2015/16 school attendance in England.

Although this should be treated with caution, as it does not include the summer term data, the headline statistics identify a pattern of continued improvement in school attendance both in the primary and secondary phases.

Headline Data

Average primary attendance is up 0.1% to 96.1%, average secondary attendance is up 0.2% to 95% and the combined average attendance is up 0.1% to 95.6%. Underlying this upward trend however, is a continuing gap in absence rates for key vulnerable groups such as: pupils with special education needs or an Education Health Care Plan, FSM entitlement, ethnic minority status and pupils enrolled at Pupil Referral Units.

Persistent Absence

As would be expected when attendance rates are rising, there is a continued decline in persistent absence rates. We know the rate at which a child becomes classed as a persistent absentee was changed by the DfE to 90% in September 2015 and new data shows that this now accounts for 10.3% of pupils nationally; the equivalent figure for the previous year was 11.1%.

Use of Coding / Reasons for Absence

By drilling down into the use of absence coding, the key feature in improving attendance has been a reduction in authorised absence rates from 3.6% to 3.4% - particularly regarding code I (illness), which is down from 2.9% to 2.7%. Illness continues to be the most common cause of absence accounting for 62.2% of all pupil absence.

Unauthorised absence rates have remained unchanged at 0.9%. It remains to be seen whether there will be any rise in unauthorised leave of absence following the High Court ruling in May 2016, regarding the Isle of Wight v Platt case. Full year data is expected to be released in March 2017. 

Raising Standards

A government report released by the DfE in March 2016 showed evidence that the national campaign to raise attainment standards by tackling persistent absence and truancy, is having a positive impact.

The report makes links between attendance and attainment, and indicated that every day missed was associated with a lower attainment outcome, irrelevant of the reason for absence.

In response to this, schools minister Nick Gibb quoted, “…missing school for even a day can mean a child is less likely to achieve good grades, which can have a damaging effect on their life chances.”

Impact on Attainment 

This statement appears to be backed by the official research, which shows 78.7% of pupils with full attendance in key stage 4 achieved 5+ A* to C grades including Maths and English. For pupils with attendance between 95% and 99.9%, this dropped to 69.1% and by the time a pupil became a persistent absentee (i.e. attendance of 90% or below), the rate of pupils still achieving 5+ of the top grades has decreased to just 35.6%. 

For more information and support on attendance and attainment, contact Karen McCaul on 0844 967 1111.

References and Further Reading

Pupil Absence in Schools in England: Autumn 2015 and Spring 2016. For further details regarding attendance rates visit the Department for Education website.  

Blog Authored By Frank Dooley - One Education Attendance Advisor

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