Week 39 2020

Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Published

A summary of attendance in education settings from Monday 23 March to Thursday 24 September and early years settings from Thursday 16 April to Thursday 24 September.

This publication provides a high-level national summary of estimates from the Department for Education's education settings survey and local authority early years survey. We are working to expand the scope of published data in future releases. 

These statistics have been produced quickly in response to developing world events. The Office for Statistics Regulation, on behalf of the UK Statistics Authority, has reviewed them against several key aspects of the Code of Practice for Statistics and regards them as consistent with the Code’s pillars of Trustworthiness, Quality and Value.


Headline facts and figures - 2020

State-funded schools

All figures are for state-funded schools. State-funded schools are primary, secondary, special schools and alternative provision. Further education colleges, post-16 special institutions and independent schools are not included in these figures, however estimates for these settings are included in the ‘Open status and attendance by type of school or college’ section of this publication.

  • 99.8% of state-funded schools were open on 24 September, down from 99.9% on 17 September. Of the small proportion (0.2%) of schools that were closed, this was mostly due to COVID-19 related reasons.
  • Approximately 88% of all children on roll in all state-funded schools were in attendance on 24 September. This figure has remained broadly stable for three weeks. Our attendance estimates are not directly comparable to published overall absence rates, see the ‘Attendance in state-funded schools’ section for further detail about comparability. Our analysis suggests attendance estimates for state-funded schools are depressed by up to 1.5 percentage points by the inclusion of children in school-based nurseries, for whom attendance is not mandatory. 

Schools are considered fully open if they are able to provide face-to-face teaching for all pupils on roll for the whole school day and they have not asked a group of pupils to self-isolate. Where schools are not fully open, most pupils are still attending. When pupils are unable to attend school because they are complying with clinical or public health advice, schools are expected to be able to immediately offer them access to remote education.

  • Approximately 93% of state-funded schools were fully open on 24 September, slightly down from 94% on 17 September. Responses from schools indicate that most were not fully open due to COVID-19 related reasons. Of all schools that responded to the survey, 6% said they were not fully open due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 on 24 September, up from 4% on 17 September. Of those not fully open due to non-COVID-19 related reasons, this included staggering entry for children in nursery and reception in the first few weeks of term.
  • Approximately 95% of state-funded primary schools were fully open on 24 September, a similar proportion to 17 September. Of those not fully open, this was mostly due to COVID-19 related reasons.
  • Attendance has increased in state-funded primary schools, from approximately 88% on 17 September to 91% on 24 September. Attendance in all primary schools without nurseries was approximately 93% on 24 September. Attendance was higher in fully open state-funded primary schools.
  • Approximately 84% of state-funded secondary schools were fully open on 24 September, down from 92% on 17 September. Of those not fully open, this was mostly due to COVID-19 related reasons.
  • As a result of the decrease in fully open schools, attendance in state-funded secondary schools decreased from approximately 86% on 17 September to 84% on 24 September. Attendance remained stable in fully open state-funded secondary schools, at 87%.

Early years settings

The early years local authority survey continues on a weekly basis. Ordinarily, fewer early years settings are open and fewer children are in attendance during school summer holidays. This is due to reduced demand for childcare and the closure of term-time only and school-based settings. Some children returned to early years settings on week commencing 31 August, with many more returning on week commencing 7 September. However, due to the weekly nature of the collection, the response rate and the fact that some providers started the autumn term with inset days, it is expected to take a few weeks before the early years attendance figures settle. 

The volume and percentage of children in attendance from 10 September is not directly comparable with the previous data points due to a break in the time series. The number of three-year-olds eligible for funded childcare, and therefore attending early years settings, increases through the academic year. Attendance in settings decreases in the autumn when children move to reception. For more details on the break in the time series, please see the methodology section. 

  • We estimate 674,000 children attended early years settings on 24 September. This represents approximately 52% of children who usually attend childcare in term time [1]. Due to many children attending early years settings on a part-time basis, and some children not being present due to normal sickness or holiday absence, we would not expect all children to be in attendance on the day of the data collection. As the denominator ‘number of children who usually attend during term time’ includes all children attending on any day of the week, we do not expect the percentage of children attending early years settings to reach 100%.

[1] The number of children in term time was estimated using outputs from the Childcare and early years survey of parents: 2019 and ONS National Population Projections: 2018 based. 

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Background

From the beginning of the autumn term in the 2020/21 academic year, all pupils, in all year groups, were expected to return to school full-time.

Between March 2020 and the end of the summer term, schools were asked to limit attendance to reduce transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19). The timeline is summarised below:

  • From Friday 20 March 2020, in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the government asked early years settings, schools, and colleges to close to all children except those of critical workers and those classified as vulnerable.
  • From 1 June, the government asked schools to welcome back children in nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6, alongside children of critical workers and vulnerable children from all years. Early years settings were also asked to begin welcoming back all children from 1 June.
  • From 15 June, secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges were asked to begin providing face-to-face support to students in year 10 and 12 to supplement their learning from home, alongside full time provision for students from priority groups. Primary schools were given the flexibility to bring back pupils in other year groups, where they have space to do so.
  • By 17 July, most schools and colleges had closed for the summer holiday. Ordinarily, fewer early years settings are open and fewer children are in attendance during school summer holidays. This is due to reduced demand for childcare and the closure of term-time only and school-based settings.

Education settings survey

To help understand the impact of these decisions, the Department for Education (DfE) established a survey of schools and colleges in England. Schools and colleges are asked to report information to DfE each day.

The education settings survey was open between 23 March and 17 July 2020 and then reopened on 1 September 2020. The survey questions were changed on 1 September 2020 to reflect the expectation that all schools should prepare to open to all pupils.

Local authority early years survey

To help understand the impact of these decisions, from 6 April 2020, the Department of Education (DfE) asked local authorities (LAs) to regularly report to the DfE information on the number of children in attendance, including the number of settings open or closed. The focus of this survey was narrowed to early years settings from 16 April. 

The volume and percentage of children in attendance from 10 September is not directly comparable with the previous data points due to a break in the time series. The number of three-year-olds eligible for funded childcare, and therefore attending EY settings, increases through the academic year. Attendance in settings decreases in the autumn when children move to reception. For more details on the break in the time series, please see the methodology section. 

Data coverage

This data release includes data from the education settings survey from 23 March to 24 September and early years settings from 16 April to 24 September. 

The narrative in this document focuses on Thursday 24 September to maintain comparability with previous weeks. Data from Wednesday 9 September is included in the underlying data because this was the first time fewer than 1% of schools reported inset days since the survey reopened on Tuesday 1 September.

Non-response adjustment

Education settings survey

Non-response adjustments made to published figures from 9 September 2020 are summarised here. For the non-response adjustment methodology made to published figures from 23 March to 16 July 2020, see the July 21 publication.

The response rate among state-funded schools was 77% on 24 September. Open rate and attendance figures for state-funded schools in this release are adjusted to account for those that did not respond to the survey.

The methodology used from 9 September assumes that state-funded schools that did not respond were no more likely to be closed, partially open or have lower attendance than responding state-funded schools. This follows analysis of response patterns, data collected from a sample of non-responding schools, and comparison with data collected through regular phone calls between DfE and local authorities to identify any closed schools. Responses have been weighted to take account of differences in response rate between different school types.

See the methodology section for further detail.

Local authority early years survey

For the local authority early years survey, figures for the number of settings open and closed and the number of children attending for those LAs which did not respond are estimated based on the proportions reported by LAs which did respond. The national estimate comprises reported figures from LAs which did respond combined with these estimates (see the methodology section). From 1 June onwards, this methodology has been revised to take into account the wider opening of early years settings.

Open status of state-funded schools

All figures are for state-funded schools. State-funded schools are primary, secondary, special schools and alternative provision. Further education colleges, post-16 special institutions and independent schools are not included in these figures, however estimates for these settings are included in the ‘Open status and attendance by type of school or college’ section of this publication.

16,700 state-funded schools responded to the survey on  24 September. This represents 77% of all state-funded schools. The following figures are adjusted for non-response. More information can be found in the Methodology section of this release.

  • 99.8% of state-funded schools were open on 24 September. Of the small proportion (0.2%) of schools that were closed, this was mostly due to COVID-19 related reasons.

Schools are considered fully open if they are able to provide face-to-face teaching for all pupils on roll for the whole school day and they have not asked a group of pupils to self-isolate. Where schools are not fully open, most pupils are still attending. School guidance states that where pupils are unable to attend school because they are complying with clinical or public health advice, schools are expected to be able to immediately offer them access to remote education.

  • Approximately 93% of state-funded schools were fully open on 24 September, down from 94% on 17 September. Responses from schools indicate that most were not fully open due to COVID-19 related reasons. Of all schools that responded to the survey, 6% said they were not fully open due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, up from 4% on 17 September. Of the small proportion not fully open due to non-COVID-19 related reasons, this included staggering entry for children in nursery and reception in the first few weeks of term.
  • Approximately 95% of state-funded primary schools were fully open on 24 September, a similar proportion to 17 September. Approximately 84% of state-funded secondary schools were fully open on 24 September, down from 92% on 17 September. Most were not fully open for COVID-19 related reasons. See the ‘Open status and attendance by type of school or college’ section for further detail.

Attendance in state-funded schools

Department for Education guidance sets out that school attendance is mandatory from the beginning of the autumn term. Pupils with COVID-19 symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, should not attend school. If someone who has attended school is tested positive for COVID-19, pupils they have been in close contact with will be asked to self-isolate. 

Where schools are not fully open, most pupils are still attending. When pupils are unable to attend school because they are complying with clinical or public health advice, schools are expected to be able to immediately offer them access to remote education.

Attendance estimates include pupils absent for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related reasons. Our analysis suggests attendance estimates for state-funded schools are depressed by up to 1.5 percentage points by the inclusion of children in school-based nurseries, for whom attendance is not mandatory. 

All pupils

  • Approximately 88% of all children on roll in all state-funded schools were in attendance on 24 September. This figure has remained broadly stable for three weeks, with 87% in attendance on 17 September and 88% on 10 September.
  • We estimate 93% of schools were fully open on 24 September. Attendance was higher in fully open schools - we estimate 90% of all pupils on roll in fully open state-funded schools were in attendance on 24 September, up from 88% on 17 September.

The overall absence rate in state-funded primary, secondary and special schools in England in the 2018/19 academic year was 4.7%. There are some differences in the calculation of this figure and our attendance estimates that affect comparability [2]. These differences all depress our attendance estimates when compared to the 2018/19 absence rate. 

The following groups have lower than average attendance and are included in our attendance estimates, but excluded from the 2018/19 absence rate:

  • Children in school-based nurseries, for whom attendance is not mandatory and many attend part-time
  • Children in state-funded alternative provision, for whom the absence rate is typically much higher than average
  • 4 year-olds on roll in state-funded schools, for whom the absence rate is typically slightly higher than average
  • 16 to 18 year-olds on roll in state-funded schools, for whom the absence rate is likely to be slightly higher than average

We compared attendance in primary schools with and without nurseries and found attendance was approximately 93% in primary schools without nurseries and 88% in primary schools with nurseries. This suggests excluding children in school-based nurseries could increase our attendance estimate for state-funded schools by up to 1.5 percentage points.

We estimated the combined impact of the differences in the calculation of our attendance estimates and the overall absence rate in the 2018/19 academic year. This used attendance reported via the education settings survey and population sizes of different pupil groups from the Spring 2020 census. We estimate that, if our attendance estimates for state-funded schools were calculated on the same basis as the 2018/19 overall absence rate, these would be between 1 and 2 percentage points higher than reported. 

  • Attendance has increased in state-funded primary schools, from approximately 88% on 17 September to 91% on 24 September. Attendance in all primary schools without nurseries was approximately 93% on 24 September.
  • Attendance was higher in fully open primary schools and increased from approximately 89% on 17 September to 92% on 24 September. Attendance in fully open primary schools without nurseries was approximately 94% on 24 September.
  • Attendance in state-funded secondary schools has decreased from approximately 86% on 17 September to 84% on 24 September.
  • Attendance was higher in fully open secondary schools and remained stable at 87% compared to 17 September.

Vulnerable children

Attendance of vulnerable children and young people was prioritised between March 2020 and the end of the summer term, when attendance was limited for other pupils to reduce transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19). While all children are now expected to attend, provision for vulnerable children and their attendance continues to be monitored. Schools are asked to report the number of pupils with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and the number with a social worker on roll and in attendance each day. 

Pupils with a social worker are considered ‘children in need’. Our analysis after adjusting for non-response suggests that schools may be under-reporting the number of children with a social worker when compared to the most recently published children in need statistics [3]. Therefore these estimates only account for pupils with a social worker that are identified by schools.

  • The attendance of pupils with EHCPs and children in need is typically lower than for other pupils. In the 2018/19 academic year, the overall absence rate was 8.7% for pupils with a statement of SEN or an EHCP and 11.4% for children in need [4]. There are some differences in the calculation of these figures and our estimates that affect comparability [2].
  • Approximately 81% of all pupils with an EHCP on roll in all state-funded schools were in attendance on 24 September, similar to 17 September. This figure was 83% in fully open state-funded schools, up from 82% on 17 September.
  • Approximately 82% of all pupils with a social worker on roll in all state-funded schools were in attendance on 24 September, up from 81% on 17 September. This figure was 84% in fully open state-funded schools, up from 83% on 17 September.

[2] 2018/19 overall absence rates include pupils aged 5-15 in state-funded primary, secondary and special schools. Our attendance estimates include pupils of all ages on roll in these schools, including children in school-based nurseries (for whom attendance is not mandatory), 4-year olds in reception, 16-year olds in year 11 and all students in sixth forms. Pupils on roll in alternative provision (who have a higher than average absence rate) are included in our attendance estimates, but excluded from the 2018/19 overall absence rates.

[3] Statistics: children in need and child protection

[4] Pupil absence in schools statistics and characteristics of children in need statistics

Open status and attendance by type of school or college

Response rate varies between school or college types, therefore some are more sensitive to the non-response methodology than others. Response rates were lower among some setting types, which means there is greater uncertainty around their estimates.

Our analysis suggests attendance estimates for state-funded primary, special schools and independent schools are depressed by the inclusion of children in school-based nurseries, for whom attendance is not mandatory. Attendance was approximately 93% in all primary schools without nurseries and 94% in fully open primary schools without nurseries.

The definition of ‘fully open’ is different for colleges. Colleges using a planned combination of on-site and remote delivery are considered fully open. However, where remote delivery is being implemented as a contingency response, colleges should report as ‘not fully open’. Analysis of open-text responses indicated that most colleges reporting as ‘not fully open’ were using a planned combination of on-site and remote delivery and such responses were manually amended to ‘fully open’. Where there was not sufficient detail provided to assess this, responses remained as ‘not fully open’ and therefore the proportion of FE colleges is likely to be an underestimate.

Figures are given as of 4pm on 24 September, except for further education (FE) colleges and special-post 16 institutions which are as of midnight 24 September. 

  • More state-funded primary schools were fully open (95%) than state-funded secondaries (84%) and special schools (91%)
  • Attendance was much lower in state-funded secondaries (84%) than state-funded primaries (91%).
  • Fewer pupils were in attendance at state-funded special schools (78%) than state-funded primary schools (91%) and state-funded secondary schools (84%). Typically, attendance in special schools is lower than in mainstream settings.
  • Attendance in alternative provision is lower than other settings. Typically, attendance in alternative provision is lower than in other settings. Our attendance in alternative provision estimates may be depressed in part due to alternative provision institutions reporting dual-registered pupils as being on roll. Pupils dual-registered with a mainstream setting are not required to attend alternative provision full-time.

Table 1: Response rate and estimates of % open, % fully open, % attendance and % attendance in fully open settings by school or college type on 24 September

Setting typeResponse rate% open  [5]          % fully open% attendance% attendance in fully open [6]
State-funded primary  [7]78%99.9%95%91%92% 
State-funded secondary76%99.9%84%84%87%
State-funded special  [7]76%99%91% 78%80%
State-funded alternative provision71%99%94%56%58% 
All state-funded schools  [7]77%99.8% 93%88% 90%
Independent schools  [7]47%99%95%91%92%
Special post-16 institutions76%99% 95% - -
FE colleges89%99%95% - -

[5] Percentage open figures are rounded to 1dp for state-funded primary, state-funded secondary and all state-funded schools. For other phases, figures are reported to 0dp and where 100% of settings report they are open, this is reported as 99%  given level of uncertainty around these estimates due to lower response rates and/or small population sizes.

[6] Attendance rates are not yet reported for FE colleges or special post-16 institutions as we develop a methodology to account for the fact that some learners attend part-time.

[7] Our analysis suggests attendance estimates for state-funded primary, special schools and independent schools are depressed by the inclusion of children in school-based nurseries, for whom attendance is not mandatory.

Early years settings

The response rate to the early years local authority survey was 88%, with 133 out of 151 LAs submitting data on 24 September. Some children returned to early years settings on week commencing 31 August, with many more returning on week commencing 7 September. However, due to the weekly nature of the collection, the response rate and the fact that some providers started the autumn term with inset days it is expected to take a few weeks before the early years attendance figures settle. 

The volume and percentage of children in attendance from 10 September is not directly comparable with the previous data points due to a break in the time series. The number of children eligible for funded childcare increases through the academic year as children turn three and decreases in the autumn when children move to reception. For more details on the break in the time series, please see the methodology section. 

The following figures are adjusted for non-response. More information can be found in the Methodology section of this release.

  • An estimated 52,000 early years settings were open on 24 September. This represents 77% of all settings, with 13% closed and 10% unknown [8]. The percentage closed may include some providers which are open, due to differences in the ways local authorities collect data and report non-responses. This is currently being reviewed.

[8] Due to rounding, these do not always sum to 100%.

  • We estimate 674,000 children attended early years settings on 24 September. This represents approximately 52% of the number of children who usually attend childcare in term time [9]. Due to many children attending EY settings on a part-time basis , and some children not being present due to normal sickness or holiday absence,  we would not expect all children to be in attendance on the day of the data collection. As the denominator ‘number of children who usually attend during term time’ includes all children attending on any day of the week, we do not expect the percentage of children attending early years settings to reach 100%.
  • Approximately 26,000 vulnerable children attended early years settings on 10 September. This represents around 30% of 0 to 4 year olds classified as ‘Children in Need’ or who have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) [10]. Attendance rates for vulnerable children are presented as a proportion of the estimated number of children aged 0-4 with an EHCP using formal childcare plus the total number of Children in Need aged 0-4. We do not have estimates of the number of Children in Need who usually use formal childcare. Therefore the attendance rate is presented to allow comparisons to be made over time, rather than the proportion of vulnerable children who would usually attend early years settings. This means this figure is not comparable with the proportion of children who usually attend childcare in term time.

[9] The number of children in term time was estimated using outputs from the Childcare and early years survey of parents: 2019 and ONS National Population Projections: 2018 based.

[10] 0 to 4 year olds excluding those in Reception classes. This is an estimate based on the 2019 Children in Need census and January 2020 school census. 

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