Earlier today the DfE published the results of the data collected about pupils’ absence from school during the autumn term of 2017 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term-2017 Not a lot had changed since the previous autumn term and the overall picture has remained broadly at the same level now for three years. However, as the DfE concede, – levels of authorised absence have decreased, while the levels of unauthorised absence has increased.
For state-funded primary and secondary schools, the authorised absence rate decreased from 3.3 per cent in autumn 2016 to 3.2 per cent in autumn 2017 and the unauthorised absence rate increased from 1 per cent in autumn 2016 to 1.1 per cent in autumn 2017. Part of the increase was down to the fact that that the level of absence among persistent absentees rose slightly from 11.4 per cent in autumn 2016 to 11.5 per cent in autumn 2017.
Illness is the most common reason for absence and heavily influences overall absence rates. It accounted for 58.3 per cent of all absence in autumn 2017, a lower proportion than seen in previous years; it was 58.4 per cent in autumn 2016 and 58.8 per cent in 2015. This variation from autumn term to autumn term can be the result of winter illness patterns and in particular whether the flu season starts early or not. The level of absence for religious reasons is also variable from year to year; depending upon when major moveable festivals appear in the calendar. In 2017, there were some dates that fell outside of term time and that reduced the number of days pupils were absent.
Authorised family holidays are now very largely a thing of the past, but there is still an upward trend in days lost to unauthorised holidays, albeit the increase from the previous year was relatively slight. For some families the fine can be seen as just another expense as part of the overall holiday costs and if the holiday price is cheaper in term time there may actually be a cash saving even if it can affect a child’s education.
Interestingly, just over a quarter of pupils had no recorded absence in the autumn term. However, the trend towards not arriving on time is gathering pace, with 266,905 recorded occurrences. Not a huge number, but the highest figure for the past few years.
I fear 14-18 schools frequently seem to appear close to the top of the list of schools with well above average absence rates. In Oxfordshire, three of the eight schools with the worst overall absence rates are 14-18 schools. I need to check whether there are issues about how some pupil activities in these schools are recorded. Otherwise, it seems likely that turning schools into academies hasn’t proved a magic bullet in terms of curing high levels of absence: leadership is, I suspect, much more important than school organisation in bringing down absence rates. It might be worth asking MATs how much of their central funds are aimed at reducing absence rates in schools where it might be an issue?