New data highlights true picture of school absence

Published on Wednesday, 19 October 2011 10:20
Posted by Scott Buckler

New figures released today show that 450,330 children – 7.2 per cent – were absent from school for 15 per cent or more of the autumn 2010 and spring 2011 terms. This is the equivalent of missing a month’s worth of lessons in a year

The figures also reveal that more than a million pupils (16.4 per cent) missed half a day or more of school per week, equating to 10 per cent of school time missed.

This is the first time that a new, tougher, persistent absence measure has been recorded, giving a clearer picture of the problem in our schools. Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that the new figures revealed the worrying extent of long-term absence from school in England. The figures have also failed to improve on last year.

Children who miss 15 per cent or more of school time are now recorded as persistent absentees. Previously, children had to miss 20 per cent of school to be viewed as persistent absentees. This is equivalent to more than six weeks of missed lessons in a school year.

With this new threshold, the Government is asking schools to step in to tackle absence sooner – before the problem really takes hold.

The latest figures show that, compared to autumn term 2009 and spring term 2010:


  • Across state-funded primary schools and secondary schools, the percentage of pupils classed as persistent absentees increased, from 7.0 per cent to 7.2 per cent.
  • In state-funded primary schools, the percentage of pupils classed as persistent absentees increased, from 5.0 per cent to 5.2 per cent.
  • In state-funded secondary schools, the percentage of pupils classed as persistent absentees increased, from 9.3 per cent to 9.5 per cent.

Previously, some schools did not take action until a pupil missed 20 per cent or more of school. This was simply too late.

Ministers will continue to look at the possibility of further lowering the threshold over time.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

Today’s figures reveal the worrying extent of absenteeism in our schools. It is unacceptable that more than 450,000 pupils are missing the equivalent of a month of lessons a year. Even one day missed from school without very good reason is one too many.

Children who are absent for substantial parts of their education fall behind and struggle to catch up. By lowering the threshold, we are encouraging schools to crack down on absence before the problem escalates.

Persistent absence is a serious problem. Much of the work children miss when they are off school is never made up, leaving them at a considerable disadvantage to their peers. There is clear evidence of a link between poor attendance at school and low levels of achievement:

  • Of pupils who miss more than 50 per cent of school, only three per cent manage to achieve five A* to Cs, including English and maths.
  • Of pupils who miss between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of school, only 35 per cent manage to achieve five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths.
  • Of pupils who miss less than five per cent of school, 73 per cent achieve five A* to Cs, including English and maths.

The Department is continuing to publish the old threshold alongside the new one – highlighting the true scale of persistent absence in England. In addition it has also released, for the first time, national figures showing the numbers of pupils who miss 12.5, 10 and five per cent of lessons.

The Government’s Expert Adviser on behaviour, Charlie Taylor, said:

Schools know all too well what a harmful effect poor attendance can have on a child’s future prospects. We know that great efforts have been made to get absence down in schools. But as these figures show there are still too many pupils missing too many lessons.

I know, in my experience as a headteacher, that the earlier poor patterns of attendance are addressed by schools, the less likely it is that it will become a persistent issue. This is why good primary schools take a zero tolerance approach to poor attendance from the very start of school life

Ofsted allows for flexibility around the inspection of attendance and the individual circumstances of pupils with good reason to be off school will not affect the final judgement. For example, there are pupils who are off school for long periods of time for medical reasons. Schools should also not be penalised for the absence of genuinely sick children.

Ofsted will continue to take into account the number of pupils over the ‘persistently absent’ threshold when looking at a school’s performance on attendance. They will explore ways of taking this new threshold into account in the 2012 framework, which is due to come into effect from January 2012.

Source: DFE

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