Schools

Illness drives stubbornly high persistent absence

Around a quarter of pupils have missed 10 per cent or more sessions since September

Around a quarter of pupils have missed 10 per cent or more sessions since September

23 Feb 2023, 11:59

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Around one in four pupils continue to persistently miss school, new government absence data shows, with high levels of illness last term partially to blame.

Statistics published by the Department for Education (DfE) this morning show 23.4 per cent of pupils have missed 10 per cent or more sessions so far this academic year.

Though this represents a slight fall on the figure for the autumn term, when persistent absence stood at 25.1 per cent, it remains much higher than pre-pandemic autumn 2019, when it stood at 13.1 per cent.

The rate for last autumn is higher than the 23.5 per cent peak reported in autumn 2021. But Covid absences were recorded differently then, and the DfE said the actual number of pupils persistently absent had fallen.

According to the government, the high persistent absence rate so far this year has been driven by higher rates of illness, with the UK Health Security Authority’s (UKHSA) data showing winter illnesses peaked in December.

The persistent absence rate across the autumn term due to illness absences alone was 13.3 per cent.

Severe absence higher in year 10 and 11 pupils

Recent analysis from FFT Education Datalab of this year’s autumn term showed year 10 and 11 pupils were most likely to be severely absent.

Within these year groups, almost five per cent of all pupils were classed as “severe absentees” – meaning they at least 50 per cent of sessions last term.

It comes after MPs launched an inquiry into persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils in January.

A range of measures have been proffered for tackling the issue. Earlier this week, Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said personalised text messages to parents could help boost attendance.

“I’m convinced that developing school-parent engagement plans would be a potential game changer, encouraging more children to attend school and enabling them to be better prepared to learn in classrooms,” he said in a submission to the Commons education committee.

Trial will see if pupils can influence attendance

Separately, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) announced a trial of the Grassroots programme this week to find out if supporting pupils to positively influence classmates’ behaviour could boost attendance.

Another randomised control trial will be run into the BITUP programme, which aims to boost attendance by sending parents personalised updates about how many days they have missed.

Three other research projects will also investigate the impact that different school practices have on attendance and exclusions.

ICF Consulting will look into how effective employing attendance and family liaison officers is.

The National Foundation of Educational Research will look at difference approaches to internal alternative provision, while NatCen and UCL will investigate the impact “authoritative” behaviour policies have on attendance rates.

Drop in winter illness driving attendance

The latest DfE data shows overall absence has improved since last term, when winter illnesses drove up absence rates.

In the week commencing February 6, the overall absence rate was 7.4 per cent. The rate of authorised absences was 4.9 per cent, while unauthorised absences stood at 2.5 per cent.

This compares with the last week of the autumn term, when the absence rate was 14.3 per cent. 10.4 per cent of absences were authorised and 3.9 per cent were unauthorised.

In the first week of term last September, the absence rate stood at 5.4 per cent.

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