Week 21 2021

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

Published

Introduction

A summary of attendance in education settings from Monday 23 March 2020 to Thursday 20 May 2021 and early years settings from Thursday 16 April 2020 to 13 May 2021, excluding out of term dates as data is not collected. 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.

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

Attendance in the early part of the summer term was higher than at any other point during the pandemic. Between 5 and 20 May, on-site attendance in secondary schools fell by 2.6 percentage points. During this time, there was a small increase in COVID related absence (0.4 percentage points). However, we estimate that the majority of the remaining drop is explained by some schools offering different provision for Year 11 and 13 students (which might include study leave, educational visits, independent study or remote provision).

There are some differences in the data collection methods used for the Department for Education's daily education settings survey and the School's Census, which mean that we cannot directly compare current reported absence to ‘typical’ rates. Absence rates calculated from the census exclude year 11 students from the summer term and year 12 and 13 students entirely, whilst these groups are included in the daily education settings survey.

Given that the different provision for Year 11 and 13 students is having an impact on attendance figures at both secondary and all state-funded schools level, we will place greater focus on COVID-19 absences for the remainder of the summer term. 

Open Rates

  • Over 99.9% of state-funded schools were open on 20 May, similar to 12 May.

Pupil absence

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.

Secondary-age pupils should be offered asymptomatic testing, as per Department for Education guidance. 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.

  • COVID-related pupil absence has remained low since the start of the summer term. Approximately 1% of pupils have been absent from state-funded schools for COVID related reasons each day since 21 April.
  • A breakdown of COVID-19 related pupil absence in open schools on 20 May is given in table 1. Among pupils absent for COVID-19 reasons, the main reason for absence is self-isolation due to contact with a potential case of coronavirus inside the school. On 20 May, 0.7% of pupils were absent for this reason. This is up from 0.5% on 12 May.
  • Less than 0.1% of pupils in state-funded schools were absent on 20 May because their school was closed due to COVID-19 related reasons.

Table 1: Proportion of pupils absent from open schools due to COVID-19 reasons on 20 May

PhaseProportion of pupils with a suspected case of COVID-19 (%)Proportion of pupils with a confirmed case of COVID-19 (%)Proportion of pupils self-isolating due to contact inside school (%)Proportion of pupils self-isolating due to contact outside school (%)
State-funded primary0.3%<0.1%0.6%0.3%
State-funded secondary0.1%0.1%0.9%0.2%
State-funded special0.4%<0.1%0.5%0.4%
All state-funded schools0.2%<0.1%0.7%0.3%

Pupil on-site attendance

  • Attendance in state-funded primary schools was 94% on 20 May, down from 95% on 12 May.
  • Attendance in state-funded secondary schools was 87% on 20 May, down from 89% on 12 May.
  • Attendance in state-funded special schools was 86% on 20 May, down from 87% on 12 May.  Attendance at state-funded special schools is typically lower than at mainstream settings.

Attendance in further education colleges

  • Approximately 309,000 students attended colleges on-site on 19 May, down from 336,000 on 12 May.

Attendance of vulnerable children and pupils eligible for free school meals

Attendance of vulnerable children and pupils eligible for free school meals is typically lower than for other pupils.

  • 87% of pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) in state-funded schools were in attendance  on 20 May, similar to 12 May.
  • 83% of pupils with a social worker [1] in state-funded schools were in attendance on 20 May, down from 85% on 12 May.
  • 88% of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) in state-funded schools were in attendance on 20 May, similar to 12 May.

Workforce absence

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.

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. All staff are also encouraged to take two rapid COVID-19 tests each week at home. 

COVID-related absence amongst workforce has remained consistently low during the first four weeks of the summer term. For both teachers and school leaders and teaching assistants and other staff, COVID-related absence has been at 0.5% or lower since the start of the summer term. 

  • We estimate that 0.5% of teachers and school leaders in open state-funded schools were absent due to COVID-19 reasons on 20 May, similar to 12 May.
  • We estimate that 0.5% of  teaching assistants and other staff in open state-funded schools were absent due to COVID-19 reasons on 20 May, similar to 12 May.
  • We estimate that 4.6% of teachers and school leaders and 4.6% of teaching assistants and other staff in open state-funded schools were absent for other reasons on 20 May.

Early years settings

  • The early years local authority survey moved to fortnightly from 29 April 2021 with no publication due this week.

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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.

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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. Shielding advice has been paused nationally from 31 March 2021.  Clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) individuals are no longer advised to shield but must continue to follow the rules in place for everyone under the current national restrictions. Staff in schools who are CEV are advised to continue to work from home where possible, but if they cannot work from home should attend their workplace.

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.

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 2020. The early years local authority survey moved to fortnightly from 29 April 2021. 

Patterns of childcare use vary through the year. 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. Four-year-olds remain in early years settings before moving into reception in the autumn term, where attendance in settings decreases. 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 2020 (for Autumn Term 2020), on 7 January  2021 (for Spring Term 2021) and on 22 April 2021 (for Summer 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 20 May 2021 (excluding out of term dates as data was not collected) and early years settings from 16 April 2020 to 13 May 2021. 

The narrative in this document focuses on Thursday 20 May 2021 for education settings only.

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 69% on 20 May. 

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.

Attendance figures for further education providers were included for the first time from 30 March. The non-response methodology used is similar to that of state-funded settings, assuming the same attendance rates for non-responding settings as responding settings. We do not hold information on the expected daily attendance of non-responding settings and therefore use an average from a two-week period during the autumn term to provide this for all settings. Further information is detailed in the ‘methodology’ section of this publication.

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 2020 onwards, this methodology has been revised to take into account the wider opening of early years settings.

Open status for state-funded schools

  • 15,000 state-funded [2] schools responded to the survey on 20 May. This represents 69% 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.
  • Over 99.9% of state-funded schools were open on 20 May, similar to 12 May.
  • Of the small proportion (less than 0.1%) of state-funded schools that were closed, the majority the were due to COVID-related reasons.

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[2] 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 mandatory once again for all pupils from 8 March 2021. Pupils with COVID-19 symptoms, or who have someone in their household who has COVID-19 symptoms, should not attend school. If someone who 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

  • On-site attendance in state-funded schools was 91% on 20 May, down from 92% on 12 May.
  • 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 [3].

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.

Secondary-age pupils should be offered asymptomatic testing, as per Department for Education guidance. 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.

We estimate that 1.0% of all pupils on roll in state-funded schools did not attend school for COVID-19 related reasons on 20 May, similar to 12 May. This includes:

  • 18,000 pupils with a suspected case of coronavirus, 0.2% of pupils on roll in open schools
  • 4,000 pupils with a confirmed case of coronavirus, less than 0.1% of pupils on roll in open schools
  • 60,000 pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus from inside the educational setting, 0.7% of pupils on roll in open schools
  • 22,000 pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus from outside the educational setting, 0.3% of pupils on roll in open schools
  • Less than 0.1% of pupils were absent as a result of school closures due to COVID-related reasons.

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[3] 2018/19 overall absence rates include pupils aged 5-15 in state-funded primary, secondary and special schools. Our attendance estimates include 4-year olds in reception and pupils over the age of 15 in state-funded schools. Both of these groups of pupils have higher than average absence rates. 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.

Vulnerable children in state-funded schools

Attendance of pupils with an EHCP and pupils with a social worker is typically lower than for other pupils [4].

  • Approximately 87% of all pupils with an EHCP on roll in state-funded schools were in attendance on 20 May, similar to 12 May.
  • Approximately 83% of all pupils with a social worker on roll in all state-funded schools were in attendance on 20 May, down from 85% on 12 May. 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 [5]. Therefore, these estimates only account for pupils with a social worker that are identified by schools.

Pupils eligible for free school meals in state-funded schools

Recently published data shows that the number of pupils eligible for free schools meals has increased from 1.44 million in January 2020 to 1.63 million on 1 October 2020.

Attendance of pupils eligible for FSM is typically lower than for other pupils [6].

  • Approximately 88% of all pupils eligible for FSM on roll in state-funded schools were in attendance on 20 May, similar to 12 May.

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[4]  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.  

[5] 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.

[6] Data from the 2018/19 academic year calculates the typical absence rate of FSM pupils to be 7.5% when compared to 4.7% for all pupils. This data is published here.

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 was 94% on 20 May, down from 95% on 12 May.
  • Attendance in state-funded secondary schools was was 87% on 20 May, down from 89% on 12 May.
  • Attendance in state-funded special schools was 86% on 20 May, down from 87% on 12 May. Attendance at special schools is typically lower than at mainstream settings.

Attendance of vulnerable children and pupils eligible for free school meals

  • In primary schools, approximately 91% of pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP), 91% of pupils with a social worker [5] and 91% of pupils eligible for free school meals were in attendance on 20 May. This compares to 94% attendance of all pupils in primary schools on 20 May. Attendance is down from 92% for pupils with an EHCP and the same as 12 May for pupils with a social worker and pupils eligible for free school meals.
  • In secondary schools, approximately 82% of pupils with an EHCP, 76% of pupils with a social worker [5] and 84% of pupils eligible for free school meals were in attendance on 20 May. This compares to 87% attendance of all pupils in secondary schools on 20 May. Attendance is down from 83% for pupils with an EHCP, 77% for pupils with a social worker, and 85% for pupils eligible for free school meals on 12 May.

Attendance in further education colleges

Further education colleges are asked to provide data for the previous day, therefore the data is lagged by one day and our reporting focuses on Wednesdays rather than Thursdays. 

Further education colleges are asked to provide via the daily education settings survey the number of students that attended and the number of students that were expected to attend each day, to account for part-time students. Attendance figures for colleges include adult learners and part-time learners, as well as 16-19 year olds on full study programmes. Typically, attendance in further education colleges varies each day, term and academic year due to part-time learners and levels of enrolments.

From 5 January to 5 March 2021, further education colleges were expected to open only for vulnerable students and the children of critical workers, while all other students were expected to learn remotely. 

Since 8 March 2021, all students aged 16-19 or 19-25 with an EHCP are expected to undertake the majority of their planned hours on-site [7]. Colleges were given flexibility to phase the return of students on-site to manage asymptomatic testing for COVID-19. Adult learners are also able to return on-site.

  • 89% of further education colleges responded to the survey in reference to Wednesday 19 May. Further education colleges include general further education colleges, sixth form colleges and specialist designated colleges (for example land-based colleges).
  • 99.5% of further education colleges were open on 19 May.
  • We estimate 309,000 students were attending colleges on-site on 19 May, down from 336,000 on 12 May. See chart 3 for a summary of attendance in further education colleges between 11 January and 19 May 2021.
  • On-site attendance in colleges in the autumn term typically ranged between 250,000 and 400,000 students each day. Due to quality issues with some data collected in the autumn term, attendance estimates in colleges are not available for each day in the autumn term.

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[7] A majority of planned hours is considered over 50% of a student’s planned programme.

Workforce absence

Workforce absence

Following the wider reopening of schools on 8 March 2021, all staff were expected to return to work on-site. Shielding advice has been paused nationally since 31 March 2021.  Clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) individuals are no longer advised to shield but must continue to follow the rules in place for everyone under the current national restrictions. Staff in schools who are CEV are advised to continue to work from home where possible, but if they cannot work from home they should attend their workplace.

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 0.5% of both teachers and school leaders and teaching assistants and other staff were absent from open schools due to COVID-19 related reasons on 20 May, similar to 12 May for both groups.
    • Less than 0.1% of teachers and school leaders and less than 0.1% of teaching assistants and other staff were absent from open schools with a suspected case of coronavirus on 20 May. This is the similar to 12 May.
    • 0.1% of teachers and school leaders and 0.1% of teaching assistants and other staff were absent from open schools with a confirmed case of coronavirus on 20 May. This is the similar to 12 May.
    • 0.2% of teachers and school leaders and 0.3% teaching assistants and other staff were absent from open schools self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus from inside the setting on 20 May. This is the similar to 12 May for teachers and school leaders and up from 0.2% for teaching assistants and other staff.
    • 0.1% of teachers and school leaders and 0.1% of teaching assistants and other staff were absent from open schools self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus from outside the setting on 20 May. This is down from 0.2% for teachers and school leaders and similar to last week for teaching assistants and other staff when compared to 12 May.
  • We estimate that 4.6% of teachers and school leaders and 4.6% of teaching assistants and other staff were absent from open schools for ‘other’ reasons on 12 May.

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

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Methodology

Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics

Official statistics

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

This can be broadly interpreted to mean that these statistics are:

  • managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

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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