Just one in 20 pupils who are severely absent during exam years get at least five good GCSEs, the first analysis on the link between post-pandemic outcomes and attendance shows.
Children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza has repeated calls for an extension of the attendance hub network and for dedicated school leaders to manage attendance policies to solve an absenteeism epidemic.
Her report shows just 5 per cent of children who missed over half of school days in 2020-21 and 2021-22 went on to get a grade 4 or above in five GCSEs including English and maths.
In comparison, just over a third (36 per cent) of pupils who were persistently absent – meaning they missed 10 per cent or more sessions – in both years got at least five good GCSEs.
And 78 per cent of those who were rarely absent got five good GCSEs.
The report is based on analysis of DfE pupil absence data from 2020-21 and 2021-22, as well as GCSE exam results from summer 2022.
It found just over a third of all pupils hit the threshold for persistent or severe absenteeism in year 10 or 11.
The report also found that pupils whose absence improved in year 11 achieved better GCSEs than pupils whose absence didn’t improve.
Of those who were persistent absentees in year 10 but then rarely absent in year 11, more than half (54 per cent) passed at least five GCSEs, including maths and English.
The proportion for those who were severely absent in year 10 and then rarely absent in year 11 was 31 per cent.
Absent pupils risk ‘undermining’ chances of success
“I am deeply concerned by the extent of severe and persistent absenteeism in exam critical years, which risks undermining young people’s chance of academic success,” de Souza said.
“Whilst the reasons for a child’s absence from school are complex and multi-layered, my report shines a spotlight on the impact of post-pandemic absence on attainment.”
Absence had a greater impact on outcomes for pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) or with identified special educational needs (SEND).
Those eligible for FSM and persistently absent in both exam years, 28 per cent passed at least five GCSEs, including maths and English. This compares to 47 per cent of pupils not eligible for FSM who were persistently absent.
Of pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) who were persistently absent in year 10 and 11, 9 per cent met the standard.
This compared to 48 per cent of pupils with no identified SEN but who were persistently absent across both years.
‘Hold councils to account on attendance performance’
But the report warned that the figures were “descriptive only” and did not “prove that poor attendance causes poor attainment”.
It added that “even though attendance and attainment will likely have some form of direct relationship, there will be additional factors which influence both children’s attendance and attainment”.
Schools Week has previously reported on a rise in absenteeism since Covid.
Absence hovered around 4.7 per cent in the years before the pandemic struck, rising to 7.5 per cent last year, according to DfE data.
Last year the government named nine attendance hubs to help 600 schools struggling to cut absences.
de Souza reiterated a call for the network to be extended to “achieve national coverage”, with schools with the worst rates of attendance being targeted for support.
Among other recommendations, she also said every school should appoint a member of its SLT to manage its attendance policy.
She added that duties could extend beyond reviewing and implementing the policy to include regular data check-ins comparing attendance rates with similar schools.
To ensure that councils are “held accountable for their efforts to reduce absenteeism”, government should also “seek to integrate performance on attendance” into their existing accountability measures, the report stated.
Ofsted’s SEND inspections should also include attendance and the watchdog should do a “thematic deep dive” into school attendance in the worst-performing local authorities.