The DfE has just published the data about absence rates during the autumn term of 2018 and the spring term of 2019. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-2018-and-spring-2019 Some of the figures are slightly better; others slightly worse than the previous year. As ever, illness accounts for the largest single number of absences. Even so, around a million pupils, or some 14% of enrolments seem to have avoided any absences during these two terms.
I guess that to some extent the severity of any flu outbreak will influence annual outcomes. As a result, inoculating all primary school pupils with the flu vaccine should reduce the absence rate this year. But, it measles breaks out again due to mis-placed concerns over vaccination, then that might push up absences in the primary sector.
There has been a continued rise in pupils taking unauthorised holidays in term-time. More than 600,000 pupils took at least one day off for this reason during these two terms, up by around 100,000 in just two years. This is despite the Supreme Court judgement in the Isle of Wight case that took a severe line about children missing school without agreement.
There are still too many medical or dental appointments during the school day, with nearly 2 million pupils losing at least one session for this reason.
The issue of persistent absentees isn’t going away, with more than one in ten pupils classified as a persistent absentee. That’s potentially three pupils in a primary class of 30 pupils. The percentage is higher in secondary schools than in the primary sector, and worst in Years 10 and 11, suggesting some pupils have stopped engaging at that point in their education. There is also a worrying spike in Year 1, where absence rates are the highest in the primary sector. Given that most children start some form of education before year 1 these days, this might be worth looking into as this is a really vital year for establishing basic knowledge foundations.
Pupils eligible for Free School meals and those with SEN are also likely to have higher absence rates. The latter group is understandable, as there are often reasons for the SEN classification that might affect absence.
Generally, absence rates in both the primary and secondary sectors increase in the regions that are further away from London. Both Inner and Outer London have the lowest absence rates and this may partly account for the performance of pupils in the capital’s schools. Both the North East and South West have the highest regional absence rates for these terms.
Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the local authorities with the highest levels of deprivation have some of the highest absence rates in the secondary sector. Why Cornwall has the highest primary rate in 2018-19 might be worth exploring further.
Of concern to me is that Oxfordshire is ranked around the 105th lowest local authority level for primary sector absences, but is ranked 20th for local authorities in the secondary sector. This is a big turnaround between children that attend primary schools, but whose attendance seems to fall away in the secondary sector.