The moveable feast that is Easter might have caused the end to the downward trend of pupil absences during the first two terms of last year. In 2017 Easter was a couple of weeks later than in 2016. A date in April, when the weather is better, might well have caused part of the upward movement in unauthorised absences, due to family holidays. No doubt going a week before Easter would be cheaper for families and might be worth the risk of a fine across the whole cost to the family. The uncertainty earlier in the year, before the Supreme Court ruled in the Isle of Wight case might also have persuaded some families to take an autumn break during term time.
Nevertheless, it is worth wondering whether the downward trend that started in the mid-2000s might well be levelling off. The increase in secondary pupil rolls over the next few years could well contribute to an upward trend, especially if schools struggle to keep all these extra pupils in lessons. No doubt, better recording of absences and missing episodes during the school day, will also contribute to the overall figures.
The DfE continues to make it harder to pinpoint actual schools in the data, by no longer publishing their names in the tables: researchers have to use the URN or other identified to work out where schools are placed in the tables. Undoubtedly, 14-18 schools, such as studio Schools and UTCs often come out badly as they have the year groups where unauthorised absence is often at its highest. It is worth looking at their trends over a period of two to three years to see if there has been any improvement.
Perhaps the most worrying fact in the DfE Statistical Bulletin https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/652689/SFR55_2017_text.pdf is that the percentage of enrolments in state-funded primary and state-funded secondary schools that were classified as persistent absentees in autumn/spring 2016/17 was 10.4 per cent. This is slightly higher than the equivalent figure of 10.3 per cent in autumn and spring 2015/16. Again, the upward movement might partly be down to the different Easter dates. Nevertheless, one in ten pupils classified as persistent absentees must be a concern even though the definition was changed a couple of years ago. In some schools, the figures is much higher. Interestingly, the schools with the greater percentage of unauthorised absence doesn’t seem to be an inner city school but one located in a large market town: the sort of town one might expect to have relatively low levels of such absence.
As the DfE Statistical Bulletin points out, Illness remains the most common reason for absence, accounting for 60.1 per cent of all absences. The percentage of possible sessions missed due to illness has remained the same since last year at 2.7 per cent. But, it was a relatively mild winter. Pupils in national curriculum year groups 10 and 11 had the highest overall absence rate at 5.8 per cent. This trend is repeated for persistent absence.
Pupils with a statement of special educational needs (SEN) or education healthcare plan (EHC) had an overall absence rate of 7.1 per cent compared to 4.2 per cent for those with no identified SEN. The percentage of pupils with a statement of SEN or an EHC plan that are persistent absentees is more than two times higher than the percentage for pupils with no identified SEN.