School absence rates rise in line with pupil illness

School absence rates rise in line with pupil illness

Pupil illness has continued to be the driving cause for increased school absence, according to official government statistics.

Figures from the Department for Education (DfE) show overall absence rates increased slightly from 4.5 per cent to 4.6 per cent across state-funded primary, secondary and special schools for the 2014 to 2015 academic year.

The main reason for this was child illness, which has increased from 2.6 per cent to 2.8 per cent (see above), accounting for 60.1 per cent of all absences. Schools Week reported last October that in both autumn 2014 and spring 2015, illness was the main cause for absence.

The increase is in line with the rise in influenza between 2013/15 and 2014/15 seen in Public Health England statistics.

Levels of absence for other reasons also remain relatively unchanged in today’s figures.

The number of persistent absentees has increased slightly overall, with special schools seeing the greatest rise, from 14.6 to 15.4 per cent.

The amount of families jetting away on holiday during school time has fallen by 1 per cent, while year 11 students took top spot for overall absence rates, at 6.2 per cent.

A substantial difference in absence rates can be found between pupils claiming free school meals, 7.0 per cent, and those who do not, at 4.1 per cent. The rate of persistent absenteeism among pupils on free school meals was 8.9 per cent, compared to 2.7 per cent of pupils that were not eligible.

Pupils from different ethnicity groups also have vastly different absence rates.

Pupils listed as travellers of Irish heritage had rates of 18.1 per cent, while those of Chinese and Black African ethnicity were at 2.6 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively. The national average for overall absence is 4.6 per cent.

Today’s figures show the total number of days missed due to overall absence has risen from 52.0 million to 54.5 million.

The report said this is due to both the slight increase in overall absence and the higher total number of pupil enrolments in 2015 compared to 2014.

Research released by the DfE earlier this month showed that as pupil absence increases, levels of attainment decrease.

The report said: “When controlling for other factors known to affect achievement, such as prior attainment and pupil characteristics, overall absence has been shown to have a statistically significant negative link to attainment.”

Extending the model to assess individual reasons for absence, however, did not provide a greater understanding of the link between absence and attainment, the report added.

It found that pupils at the end of key stage 2 with no absence, are 1.3 times more likely to achieve level 4 or above in reading and maths tests, and 3.1 times more likely to achieve level 5 or above, than pupils that missed 10 to 15 per cent of all key stage 2 sessions.

The report also found that key stage 4 pupils with no absence are 2.2 times more likely to achieve five or more GCSEs or equivalent at A*-C, including English and maths, and 4.7 times more likely to achieve the English baccalaureate than pupils missing 10 to 15 per cent of sessions.

The report said the link between overall absence and attainment is evident “whether we look at increasing overall absence rates or increasing number of weeks missed”.