Almost one in four pupils in England was persistently absent from school last autumn, with Covid and other illness to blame, new government data shows.
Department for Education statistics show 23.5 per cent of pupils, around 1.6 million children, missed 10 per cent or more of possible sessions in the 2021-22 autumn term, up from 13 per cent in 2020.
The government said the spike in persistent absence was “largely due to illness, including positive Covid cases”. It pointed out that a “single full Covid isolation period would count as persistent absence, with seven days being roughly equivalent to 10 per cent of sessions missed”.
This also prompted a rise in the overall absence rate, from 4.7 per cent in autumn 2020 to 6.9 per cent in autumn 2021.
However, once Covid-related absences were factored-in, total absence rates actually fell last autumn, following a change to the rules which meant close contacts of positive cases no longer needed to stay at home.
Covid absence fell after isolation rules change
Covid-related absence fell from 7 per cent to 1.6 per cent between autumn 2020 and autumn 2021, meaning that total absence including Covid fell from 11.7 per cent to 8.5 per cent over the same period.
Ministers have made tacking absence, particularly persistent absence, one of their top priorities in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic.
They have launched a new live attendance tracker, and a pilot scheme that will provide mentoring to persistent absentees. Reforms announced earlier this year will also require schools to do more to tackle absence.
A DfE spokesperson said it was “good to see that overall, more children were in school in autumn 2021 compared to the previous term – but we know that Covid has continued to present challenges over this academic year”.
“The best place for a children to learn is in the classroom with inspirational teachers, which is why we are continuing to work with schools, local authorities and academy trusts to further drive up attendance.”