Week 11 2021

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 2020 to Thursday 11 March 2021 (excluding out of term dates as data not collected) and early years settings from Thursday 16 April 2020 to 11 March 2021. The data covers England only. 

This publication provides a high-level summary of estimates from the Department for Education's education settings survey and local authority early years survey. Further data at national and local authority level is available in the underlying data.

These statistics have been produced quickly in response to developing world events. In May 2020, the Office for Statistics Regulation, on behalf of the UK Statistics Authority, reviewed them against several key aspects of the Code of Practice for Statistics and regarded them as consistent with the Code’s pillars of Trustworthiness, Quality and Value.

Expansion of publication content in future releases

We are working to expand the scope of published data in future releases.

Data sharing

Data collected from the Education Settings Survey is shared as management information across national and local government for operational purposes. As part of the data share we explicitly highlight that the information is for internal purposes only and should not be shared more widely. The limitations of the data, which include variables with missing values, responses not being validated or issues being thoroughly investigated are highlighted to ensure recipients are aware that decisions should not be made in isolation and the risks of making conclusions based on the data alone. We engage with local users to try to prevent the data being shared inappropriately. Where we identify misuse of the data we work with those in receipt of the data to understand how it happened and to reduce the likelihood it will happen again.

Information shared across government includes variables that we have made a conscious decision not to share more widely at the present moment for a number of reasons including the quality of the data which could misinform or confuse users, however, they may provide useful insight for operational purposes, particularly at a local level.

The department is continuously reviewing what and how information collected from the survey is disseminated and we will endeavour to publish data at the earliest opportunity.


Headline facts and figures - 2021

Between 5 January and 5 March 2021, pupil attendance was limited to children of critical workers and vulnerable children to reduce transmission. From 8 March, school attendance once again became mandatory for all pupils. 

Secondary schools were given flexibility to phase the return of pupils between 8 and 12 March to manage testing and the return of pupils. Attendance estimates on 12 and 15 March in primary schools and secondary schools are extraordinarily included in this commentary to provide the most up-to-date picture of attendance following the wider opening of schools. All other figures are given as of Thursday 11 March, the usual reference point of our weekly commentary for comparability reasons.

Open Rates

  • 99.9% of state-funded schools were open on 11 March.

Pupil on-site attendance

  • Attendance in state-funded primary schools began at 96% from 8 to 10 March, before falling slightly to 95% on 11 and 12 March and 94% on 15 March. This is up from 28% on 4 March when attendance was limited to children of critical workers and vulnerable children only. Primary school attendance in week commencing 8 March was the highest reported since schools were asked to open only to children of critical workers and vulnerable children in March 2020.
  • Department for Education guidance says secondary school-age pupils should be offered on-site asymptomatic testing from 8 March. Secondary schools were given flexibility to phase the return of pupils between 8 and 12 March to manage testing and the return of pupils. As a result, attendance in secondary schools increased steadily from 31% on 8 March to 89% on 15 March. A small proportion (2%) of pupils in secondary schools remain absent due to phased returns. This is summarised in Table 1. Attendance is up from 6% on 4 March.

Table 1: Proportion of pupils in state-funded secondary schools attending on-site and absent due to phased return between Monday 8 and Monday 15 March

DatePupil on-site attendance (%)Pupils not on-site due to phased return (%)
Monday 8 March31%60%
Tuesday 9 March51%44%
Wednesday 10 March68%25%
Thursday 11 March81%12%
Friday 12 March85%6%
Monday 15 March89%2%
  • Attendance in state-funded special schools was 83% on 11 March, up from 47% on 4 March. A small proportion of pupils in state-funded special schools (1%) were absent due to phased returns on 11 March.

Attendance of vulnerable children

Attendance of vulnerable children has increased following the wider opening of schools:

  • In primary schools, approximately 91% of pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) and 91% of pupils with a social worker [1] were in attendance on 11 March. This compares to 95% attendance of all pupils in primary schools on 11 March.
  • In secondary schools, approximately 77% pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) and 72% of pupils with a social worker [1] were in attendance on 11 March. This compares to 81% attendance of all pupils in secondary schools on 11 March.

Workforce absence

  • We estimate that 1% of teachers and school leaders and 1% of teaching assistants and other staff in open state-funded schools were absent due to COVID-19 related reasons on 11 March. COVID-19 related reasons include a confirmed or suspected case of coronavirus and self-isolation due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus. Staff that are shielding would not be included in these figures.
  • We estimate that 4% of teachers and school leaders and 5% of teaching assistants and other staff in open state-funded schools were absent for other reasons on 11 March.

Early years settings

  • The early years local authority survey continues on a weekly basis. We estimate 802,000 children are currently attending early years childcare settings on Thursday 11 March – about 54% of the number of children who usually attend childcare in term time [2]. Due to many children attending EY settings on a part-time basis, we would not expect all children to be in attendance on the day of the data collection. On a typical day in the Spring term we expect attendance to be 1,052,000, due to different and part-time patterns of childcare during the week [3]. We estimate that the 802,000 children currently attending early years settings is approximately 76% of the usual daily level.

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[1]  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. Therefore these estimates only account for pupils with a social worker that are identified by schools. Schools report on the form how many children with a social worker they have on roll. Our analysis suggests that the total number of children with a social worker differs by at least 30% compared to published figures for children with a social worker. This means our attendance figures for pupils with a social worker are likely to overestimate attendance.

[2] 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. 

[3] LAs are asked to send attendance in EY settings on a typical day of the week. We have calculated normal expected daily attendance based on estimates of the average number of days a child spends in formal childcare on any given day, using the Childcare and early years survey of parents: 2019. For further details please see the methodology section.

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Background

Following the announcement of the Prime Minister’s 4-step roadmap to COVID-19 recovery, school attendance once again became mandatory for all pupils from 8 March 2021. The usual rules and duties around school attendance have therefore been reinstated. 

There are some instances where pupils cannot attend school due to coronavirus (COVID-19). A small number of pupils will still be unable to attend in line with public health advice to self-isolate because they:

  • have symptoms or have had a positive test result
  • live with someone who has symptoms or has tested positive and are a household contact
  • are a close contact of someone who has coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • are extremely vulnerable and therefore shielding

Pupils not receiving face-to-face education because they are complying with government guidance or legislation around coronavirus (COVID-19) should receive remote education.

The guidance for state-funded special schools, alternative provision and special post-16 institutions states that these providers should continue to allow all pupils and students to attend, unless they are self-isolating following public health advice. For providers with older pupils, every 16 to 19 student (or 19 to 25 with an EHCP) should undertake the majority of their planned hours on-site.

During the week commencing 8 March, schools were asked to offer secondary-age pupils asymptomatic testing on site. Pupils who consented to testing should have returned to face-to-face education following their first negative test result. Pupils not undergoing testing should attend school in line with the phased return arrangements of the school. Vulnerable children and children of critical workers in secondary schools should continue to attend school throughout unless they had received a positive test result. 

Colleges and special post-16 institutions were able to test students on return, initially on site and then moving towards home testing. Specialist settings had flexibility in how this was delivered.

All staff should continue to be offered two rapid COVID-19 tests each week at home. For staff classified as clinically extremely vulnerable, on-site attendance at work is not mandatory.

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.

Further detail on amendments to this form can be found in the methodology. The most recent education settings survey went live on 8 March 2021 and reflect the most recent policy changes detailed above, including the phased return of secondary pupils and an understanding of lateral flow testing.

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 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 holidays. This is due to reduced demand for childcare and the closure of term-time only and school-based settings. Key school holiday dates have been clearly marked on the corresponding charts. 

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. Due to this, the underlying attendance assumptions are updated on a termly basis, which represents a break in the time series. This occurred on 10 September (for Autumn Term 2020) and on 7 January (for Spring Term 2021). 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 2020 to 11 March 2021 (excluding out of term dates as data was not collected) and early years settings from 16 April 2020 to 11 March 2021. 

The narrative in this document focuses on Thursday 11 March 2021 for education settings and early years settings.

Non-response adjustment

Education settings survey

Non-response adjustments made to published figures from 9 September 2020 are summarised here. The response rate among state-funded schools was 75% on 11 March. 

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 8 March 2021 assumes that state-funded schools that did not respond were no more likely to be closed, ask pupils to self-isolate 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. Figures for state-funded schools have been weighted to take account of differences in response rate between different school types.

Response rates for independent schools are lower than other settings (less than 60%) and, following review of a sample of non-responding independent schools, we found non-responding independent schools were more likely to be closed than responders. Figures for independent schools have not been adjusted to account for this response bias and are presented based on responding schools only. This methodology remains in place from 8 March 2021.

For the non-response adjustment methodology made to published figures from 23 March to 16 July 2020, see the July 21 publication. Non-response adjustments have not been made to local authority level data. Further information on non-response adjustment can be found in the ‘methodology’ section of this publication.

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 for state-funded schools

  • 16,300 state-funded [4] schools responded to the survey on 11 March. This represents 75% of all state-funded schools. All figures for state-funded schools in this release are adjusted for non-response, for which further information can be found in the ‘methodology’ section of this release.
  • 99.9% of state-funded schools were on open on 11 March.
  • Of the small proportion (0.1%) of state-funded schools that were closed, most were closed due to non-COVID related reasons.

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[4] 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.

Attendance in state-funded schools

Department for Education guidance states that school attendance became once again mandatory for all pupils from March 8 2021, with secondary schools given the flexibility to phase the return of pupils to support on-site asymptomatic testing. Pupils with COVID-19 symptoms, or who have someone in their household who has COVID-19 symptoms, should not attend school. If someone who has attended school then tests positive for COVID-19, pupils they have been in close contact with will also be asked to self-isolate.

Pupil attendance in state-funded schools

Secondary schools were given flexibility to phase the return of pupils between 8 and 12 March to manage testing and the return of pupils. This impacted attendance rates during the week commencing 8 March 2021.

  • On-site attendance in state-funded schools steadily increased from 68% on 8 March to 89% on 11 March. During the same period, the proportion of pupils absent due to phased returns decreased from 26% on 8 March to 5% on 11 March.

Absence in state-funded schools

The education settings survey asks open schools how many pupils are absent due to a suspected case of coronavirus, a confirmed case of coronavirus, self-isolation due to potential contact inside the school or self-isolation due to potential contact outside the school. These same questions were asked between 12 October and 17 December. 

This data is as reported directly by schools via the Department for Education’s daily education settings survey. It is not the primary source of data on infection, incidence, and COVID-19 cases overall. Further detail can be found within the coronavirus in the UK dashboardnational COVID-19 surveillance reports and coronavirus infection survey pilot statistics.

Following the wider opening of schools on 8 March, schools were asked to offer secondary-age pupils asymptomatic testing on site. Pupils who consented to testing should have been offered three tests on site. Pupils are then encouraged to take two rapid tests each week at home. Rates of pupil absence due to confirmed cases and self-isolation may be impacted by levels of testing. This should be taken into consideration when comparing absences between different types of schools.

For pupils, COVID-19 related absence includes pupils with a confirmed or suspected case of coronavirus, those self-isolating and those on roll in schools closed due to COVID-19 related reasons. Pupils that are shielding would not be included in these figures.

Pupil absence figures are included here for completeness, however figures are unlikely to be nationally representative until the phased return of secondary-age pupils has completed. Further commentary on absence reasons will be included in future publications.

We estimate that 1% of all pupils on roll in state-funded schools did not attend school for COVID-19 related reasons on 11 March. This includes:

  • 5,000 pupils with a confirmed case of coronavirus, 0.1% of pupils on roll in open schools
  • 7,000 pupils with a suspected case of coronavirus, 0.1% of pupils on roll in open schools
  • 33,000 pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus from inside the educational setting, 0.4% of pupils on roll in open schools
  • 31,000 pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus from outside the educational setting, 0.4% of pupils on roll in open schools
  • 2,000 pupils were unable to attend school because their school was closed due to COVID-19 reasons, less than 0.1% of all pupils on roll

Vulnerable children in state-funded schools

Attendance rates of vulnerable children in state-funded schools were affected by the phased return of secondary-age pupils between 8 and 12 March.

Attendance of pupils with an EHCP and pupils with a social worker is typically lower than for other pupils [5].

  • Approximately 84% of all pupils with an EHCP on roll in state-funded schools were in attendance on 11 March, up from 47% on 4 March.
  • Approximately 82% of all pupils with a social worker on roll in all state-funded schools were in attendance on 11 March, up from 51% on 4 March. 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 [6]. Therefore, these estimates only account for pupils with a social worker that are identified by schools.

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[5]  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 see Pupil absence in schools statistics and characteristics of children in need statistics  publication for more information. There are some differences in the calculation of these figures and our estimates that affect comparability.  See our methodology for more details.  

[6] Statistics: children in need and child protection Schools report on the form how many children with a social worker (SW) they have on roll. Our analysis suggests that the total number of children with a SW differs by at least 30% compared to published figures for children with a social worker.

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 independent schools, which means there is greater uncertainty around their estimates.

See tables 2 and 3 for a summary of response rates, open rates and attendance rates by school and college type.

Pupil on-site attendance

  • Attendance in state-funded primary schools began at 96% from 8 to 10 March, before falling slightly to 95% on 11 and 12 March and 94% on 15 March. This is up from 28% on 4 March when attendance was limited to children of critical workers and vulnerable children only. Primary school attendance in week commencing 8 March was the highest reported since schools were asked to open only to children of critical workers and vulnerable children in March 2020.
  • Department for Education guidance says secondary school-age pupils should be offered on-site asymptomatic testing from 8 March. Secondary schools were given flexibility to phase the return of pupils between 8 and 12 March to manage testing and the return of pupils. As a result, attendance in secondary schools increased steadily from 31% on 8 March to 89% on 15 March. A small proportion (2%) of pupils in secondary schools remain absent due to phased returns on 15 March. Attendance is up from 6% on 4 March.
  • Attendance in state-funded special schools was 83% on 11 March, up from 47% on 4 March. A small proportion of pupils in state-funded special schools (1%) were absent due to phased returns on 11 March.
  • 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.

Attendance of vulnerable children

Attendance of vulnerable children has increased following the wider opening of schools:

  • In primary schools, approximately 91% of pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) and 91% of pupils with a social worker [6] were in attendance on 11 March. This compares to 95% attendance of all pupils in primary schools on 11 March. Attendance is up from 59% of pupils with an EHCP and 64% of pupils with a social worker in primary schools on 4 March.
  • In secondary schools, approximately 77% pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) and 72% of pupils with a social worker  [6] were in attendance on 11 March. This compares to 81% attendance of all pupils in secondary schools on 11 March. Attendance is up from 30% of pupils with an EHCP and 30% of pupils with a social worker in secondary schools on 4 March.

Workforce absence in state-funded schools

Workforce absence

Following the wider reopening of school on 8 March 2021, all staff were expected to return to work on-site except those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Interpretation of workforce absence data

The purpose of this data collection is primarily to understand attendance and teacher availability. This data is reported directly by schools via Department for Education's daily education settings survey. It is not the primary source of data on infection, incidence and COVID-19 cases overall. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have published an analysis of schools workers during COVID-19 within these publications: COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey , COVID-19 Infection Survey from February 2021, and COVID-19 Infection Survey from November 2020.

From 5 January 2021, schools were asked to provide remote education for the majority of pupils which enabled staff to work remotely. Therefore, absence data from 11 January to 5 March was collected for staff unable to teach on-site or remotely, and not on staff who were self-isolating but could still teach remotely. Therefore, figures collected from 11 January to 5 March are not comparable to workforce absence data collected in the 2020/21 Autumn term or from 8 March 2021.

On-site testing for staff was available from 4 January to 5 March. All staff are now encouraged to take two rapid COVID-19 tests each week at home. For staff classified as clinically extremely vulnerable, on-site attendance at work is not mandatory. Rates of confirmed cases and self-isolation among workforce may be impacted by levels of testing.

For workforce, COVID-19 related absence includes staff with a confirmed or suspected case of coronavirus and those self-isolating. Staff that are shielding would not be included in these figures.

Workforce unable to work on-site 

  • We estimate 1% of teachers and school leaders and 1% teaching assistants and other staff were absent from open schools due to COVID-19 related reasons on 11 March.
    • 0.2% teachers and school leaders and 0.2% teaching assistants and other staff in open schools with a confirmed case of coronavirus
    • 0.2% teachers and school leaders and 0.2% teaching assistants and other staff in open schools with a suspected case of coronavirus
    • 0.2% teachers and school leaders and 0.3% teaching assistants and other staff in open schools self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus from inside the setting
    • 0.4% teachers and school leaders and 0.5% teaching assistants and other staff in open schools self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus from outside the setting
  • We estimate that 4.4% of teachers and school leaders and 5.4% of teaching assistants and other staff were absent from open schools for ‘other’ reasons on 11 March.

Workforce absence by school or college type is summarised in tables 4 and 5.

Early years settings

The response rate to the early years local authority survey was 91%, with 137 out of 151 LAs submitting data on 11 March.

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

  • An estimated 54,000 early years settings were open on 11 March. This represents 80% of all settings, with 8% closed and 12% unknown [7]. 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.

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

Estimated number of children in attendance

The number of children in attendance is as reported by Local Authorities, based on data they collect from Early Years providers. Depending on the data collection methodology used, estimates could be affected by the number of providers submitting their information each week. As such there is a high degree of uncertainty around the figures. We believe actual attendance to be higher than indicated, due to not all Local Authorities reporting data for all providers.

  • We estimate 802,000 children attended early years settings on 11 March, up from 708,000 on 4 March. This represents approximately 54% of the number of children who usually attend childcare in term time [8].
  • Due to many children attending EY settings on a part-time basis, we would not expect all children to be in attendance on the day of the data collection. On a typical day in the Spring term we expect attendance to be 1,052,000. We estimate that the  802,000 children currently attending early years settings is approximately 76% of the usual daily level [9].
  • Approximately 36,000 vulnerable children attended early years settings on 11 March, up from 33,000 on 4 March. This represents around 45% of 0 to 4 year olds classified as ‘Children in Need’ or who have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) [10].

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[8] 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.

[9] LAs are asked to send attendance in EY settings on a typical day of the week. We have calculated normal expected daily attendance based on estimates of the average number of days a child spends in formal childcare on any given day, using the Childcare and early years survey of parents: 2019. For further details please see the methodology section.

[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 (from the 2020 children in Need census) plus the total number of Children in Need aged 0-4 (from the January 2020 school census). This excludes children in Reception classes. We do not have estimates of the number of Children in Need who usually use formal childcare. The attendance rate is presented to allow comparisons to be made over time, but does not accurately represent a ‘typical attendance rate’ and is not comparable with the proportion of children who usually attend childcare in term time nor with the schools attendance rates for Vulnerable Children. 

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These are Official Statistics and have been produced in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

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Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

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