Academic Year 2020/21

Pupil absence in schools in England

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  1. Underlying data corrected - link for '07 - Absence rates by characteristic and local authority district' was missing and has now been added.

Introduction

This release looks at pupil absence across the 2020/21 academic year, including by reason, school types and pupil characteristics.

Data is given on pupil absences as well as where a pupil could not attend school due to COVID-19 (not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus). This includes pupils who were ineligible to attend school during the lockdown period because attendance was restricted. This category was also used to record where pupils did not attend because they: were self-isolating because of COVID-19, were advised to shield, were quarantining after returning from abroad, or were in class bubbles advised to isolate. Schools were advised to record pupils with a confirmed case of COVID-19 as absent due to illness.

School level data has been collected via the Department's education settings survey on pupil attendance throughout the pandemic. However, this school census based release is derived from pupil level data from which further analysis, such as persistent absence, can be produced. The categories of absence in this release match those used on school registers and differ to those used in the education settings survey. 

For the majority of the Spring term, only children of critical workers and vulnerable pupils could attend school during the period of lockdown from 4 January 2021. Restrictions were lifted on attendance from 8 March 2021 for all other pupils, four school weeks prior to the end of term.  

Due to the disruption faced during the Spring term, caution should be taken when comparing data across terms and to previous years. Caution should also be taken when comparing to the education settings survey data.


Headline facts and figures - 2020/21

  • 21.3% of possible sessions in the 2020/21 academic year were recorded as not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus. This includes pupils self-isolating and shielding, including when a class or bubble has been required to stay at home, and includes the period of national restrictions in Spring term 2021 when 57.5% of sessions were recorded as not attending. Schools were expected to provide immediate access to remote education.
  • A further 4.6% of sessions were recorded as absence in 2020/21. This equates to over 58 million days.
  • 12.1% of enrolments missed 10% or more possible sessions in the 2020/21 academic year.

Explore data and files

All data used in this release is available as open data for download


Open data

Browse and download individual open data files from this release in our data catalogue


Guidance

Learn more about the data files used in this release using our online guidance


Create your own tables

You can view featured tables that we have built for you, or create your own tables from the open data using our table tool


Additional context relating to coronavirus (COVID-19)

Not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19)

During 2020/21, an additional code was introduced to record where pupils were not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19).  

This includes pupils self-isolating and shielding, including when a class or bubble was required to stay at home. During these sessions, these children could not attend school and so they are treated separately, and not counted within the standard absence rates within this publication. 

Where a pupil was not attending in these circumstances, schools were expected to provide immediate access to remote education.

To derive these figures, an additional category was collected from schools as defined below:

Record sessions where a pupil does not attend because their travel to, or attendance at, school would be: 

  • contrary to guidance relating to the incidence or transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) from Public Health England (PHE) and/or the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)
  • prohibited by any legislation (or instruments such as statutory directions) relating to the incidence or transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19)

Positive cases

When a pupil was initially self-isolating pending a coronavirus test result, the school should have recorded the pupil as not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus. If the pupil subsequently tested positive the school should have recorded the pupil as being absent due to illness, and they would be included as an absence.

Spring term 2021

During the national lockdown period, schools were prioritised to continue providing face to face education for pupils deemed to be in the vulnerable group (those with a social worker, an education, health and care plan, and those deemed vulnerable by the school or local authority). The department strongly encouraged vulnerable pupils to continue attending school for their education and well-being during this period.

The department also advised, however, that attendance for these children, although strongly encouraged, was not mandatory. And, where parents of a vulnerable pupil wanted their child to be absent, schools were advised to grant a leave of absence for the pupil given the exceptional circumstances. All legal penalties associated with absence over this period were disapplied to guarantee that parents were not penalised. 

Other pupils who were not eligible to attend school, during restrictions, were recorded as ‘not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus’. This is because their attendance at school was contrary to public health guidance. 

This means that the absence rates for pupils who were prioritised to continue attending school this term will be higher than for those who were not eligible to attend.

Further information

Full guidance on recording attendance in relation to coronavirus (COVID-19) during the 2020 to 2021 academic year is available online at Addendum: recording attendance in relation to coronavirus (COVID-19) during the 2020 to 2021 academic year - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey, published by ONS, gives information about infection rates, includes those amongst the primary and secondary school age groups.

Not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus (COVID-19)

Where pupils cannot attend school due to coronavirus (COVID-19), a new category of non-attendance (Code X) is used in the attendance register - ‘not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus (COVID-19)’ - as set out in The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Since 2011/12, around 5% of school is typically missed due to absence in an academic year. The table below shows the number and rate of sessions recorded as not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus, alongside the overall absence rate for each term.

In Autumn term 2020, pupils were recorded as not attending 7.0% of possible school sessions due to circumstances relating to coronavirus, the equivalent of over 33 million days.

This increased in Spring term 2021, when 57.5% of sessions were recorded as not attending due to circumstances relating to coronavirus. This is the equivalent of almost 219 million days. This includes the period of lockdown announced on 4 January 2021, where only children of critical workers and vulnerable children could attend school up to the phased return from 8 March 2021. During this period any pupils who were not expected to physically attend were recorded as not attending due to circumstances relating to coronavirus, and schools were expected to provide immediate access to remote education.

Following the phased return in Spring, the rate dropped to 4.3% in Summer term 2021, the equivalent of over 17 million days.

Absence rates

The absence rate is the total number of sessions missed due to absence for all pupils as a percentage of their total number of possible sessions. One session is equal to half a day. 

For 2020/21, not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19) is not counted as an absence but is included as a possible session in the calculation of absence rates. This includes pupils who were not eligible to attend school during restrictions or those required to self-isolate. As these pupils were not expected to attend these sessions, they are recorded differently and not counted within the standard absence rates within this publication.

4.6% of sessions in the 2020/21 academic year were missed due to absence. This represents over 58 million days on top of 270 million days where pupils were not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19). In isolation, the rate is comparable to previous years. 

The majority of absence is recorded as authorised, 3.4% of sessions were recorded as authorised absence in 2020/21, compared to 1.3% recorded as unauthorised.

In 2020/21, 21.3% of sessions were recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances, further detail is available in the section ‘not attending in circumstances relating to COVID circumstances’.

Absence rates vary by term

The overall absence rate varied from 4.7% in Autumn term 2020, decreasing to 3.3% in Spring term 2021 and then increasing to 5.8% in the Summer 2021 term. However, the Spring term was heavily affected by the lockdown from 4th January 2021.

Absence rates vary by school type

The absence rate followed a similar pattern for state-funded primary and secondary schools, with a decrease from Autumn term to Spring term, then a rise in Summer term.

Those vulnerable children and young people who were eligible to attend during the lockdown period included those who had an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. Overall absence in special schools was substantially higher in the Spring term at 25.5%, compared to 10.6% in Autumn and 11.0% in Summer. However, this is largely driven by an increase in authorised other absence accounting for 21.6% of possible sessions for pupils in special schools in Spring term.

This reflects the fact that during the national lockdown vulnerable pupils were prioritised to continue attending school but, where a parent wanted their child to be absent, schools were advised to grant a leave of absence meaning that absence rates for this group of pupils will be higher. 

Reasons for absence

Historically, the main driver for absence is illness. In 2020/21, this was 2.1% across the full year. This is a reduction on the rates seen before the pandemic (2.5% in 2018/19).

Other types of absence, including holiday absence and medical appointments have decreased, likely as a result of the pandemic. Authorised other reasons has risen to 0.9% from 0.3%, reflecting that vulnerable children were prioritised to continue attending school but where parents did not want their child to attend, schools were expected to authorise the absence.

In Autumn 2020 and Summer 2021, the majority of absence was recorded as illness, in line with before the pandemic. Authorised and unauthorised holiday rates were down, as were medical appointments, likely as a result of the pandemic. ‘Authorised other’ was the highest rate in Spring term 2021. Again, this reflects that vulnerable children were prioritised to continue attending school during the national lockdown from January 4th 2021, but where parents did not want their child to attend, schools were expected to authorise the absence.

Persistent absence

12.1% of pupil enrolments missed 10% or more of their possible sessions in 2020/21

A pupil enrolment is identified as a persistent absentee if they miss 10% or more of their possible sessions. Sessions where a pupil was not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19) are not counted as an absence but do count towards possible sessions as during these sessions these pupils could not physically attend school but schools were expected to provide immediate access to remote education.

12.1% of pupil enrolments were recorded as persistently absent in 2020/21, this compares to around 11% pre-pandemic and equates to around 870,000 enrolments.

A large increase in persistent absence was seen in special schools, increasing from 28.8% in 2018/19 to 48.9% in 2020/21. Again, this is driven by the fact that pupils in special schools were prioritised to continue to attend during the national lockdown but where they did not this was recorded as authorised absence. 

1.1% of pupil enrolments missed 50% or more of their possible sessions in 2020/21

The rate of pupil enrolments missing more than half of their possible sessions has also increased, from 0.8% of pupils to 1.1% of pupils in 2020/21. This equates to around 82,000 enrolments. This rate is highest in special schools, again this is driven by the fact that pupils in special schools were prioritised to continue to attend during the national lockdown but were recorded as absent in the register where they did not.

Absence by pupil characteristics

Pupil enrolments with Special educational needs (SEN) had higher rates of absence in 2020/21

The absence rate for pupils with an EHC plan was 13.1% over 2020/21. This rate was 9.4% in Autumn 2020,  21.1% in Spring 2021 and 10.0% in Summer term 2021. This reflects the fact that during the national lockdown vulnerable pupils were prioritised to continue attending school but, where a parent wanted their child to be absent, schools were advised to grant a leave of absence. 

For those with SEN support, the overall rate for 2020/21 was 6.5% (6.6% in Autumn 2020, 4.8% in Spring 2021 and 7.9% in Summer 2021). This compares to 3.9% over the full year for pupils with no SEN (4.1% in Autumn, 2.3% in Spring and 5.3% in Summer).

Free school meals (FSM)

The overall absence rate for pupils eligible for FSM was 7.8% across the full year, more than double the rate for pupils who were not eligible for FSM at 3.7%. This can be broken down as 7.8% in Autumn term, 6.4% in Spring term and 9.2% in Summer term. The persistent absence rate for FSM eligible pupils across the whole year was 24.4% compared to 8.3% for pupils who were not eligible for FSM. 

Ethnicity

Traveller of Irish heritage pupils and Gypsy / Roma pupils had the highest overall absence rates at 19.1% and 15.0% respectively, and the highest rates of persistent absentees at 58.8% and 52.1%.

Chinese and Indian ethnic group pupils had the lowest rates of absence at 2.1% and 3.2%.

Year group

Pupils in years 10 and 11 had the highest absence rates, at 6.4% and 6.8%. This is in line with pre pandemic trends and shows a small increase from 6.3% for year 10 and 6.4% for year 11 in 2018/19. 

Persistent absence generally increases across year groups, with the highest rates in years 10, at 17.4%, and year 11 at 18.5%, up from 16.3% for year 10 and 16.2% for year 11 in 2018/19.

Pupils in year 10 in 2020/21 had 25.2% of sessions recorded as not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus, and pupils in year 11 had 28.1% of sessions recorded as this reason.

Further characteristic breakdowns

For further breakdowns on characteristics, including English as an additional language, FSM6, Gender and SEN primary need see the table tool available here: Create your own tables, Table Tool – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk)

Pupil referral unit absence

The overall absence rate in pupil referral units has dropped to 33.7% in 2020/21, from 35.3% in 2018/19. this is driven by a decrease in unauthorised absence. The rate of persistent absence has remained steady, at 74.5% in 2020/21. The percentage of pupil enrolments who missed more than 50% of possible sessions is 27.8%, again lower than pre-pandemic. 

12.7% of possible sessions were recorded as not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus.

Geographical variations

Absence rates vary across region from 4.4% in East Midlands, East of England, Outer London and the South East, up to 5.0% in Yorkshire and The Humber.

Persistent absence also varies across regions from 11.2% in East Midlands, East of England and Outer London to 13.6% in Yorkshire and The Humber. 

The amount of sessions recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances varies from 19.3% in the South West to 22.6% in the North West.

The interactive map below can be used to look at how rates vary across local authorities

Help and support

Methodology

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

National statistics

The United Kingdom Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Designation signifying their compliance with the authority's Code of Practice for Statistics which broadly means 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

Once designated as National Statistics it's a statutory requirement for statistics to follow and comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics to be observed.

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

Contact us

Ask questions and provide feedback

If you have a specific enquiry about Pupil absence in schools in England statistics and data:

School absence and exclusions team

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schools.statistics@education.gov.uk

Telephone: Sean Gibson
0370 000 2288

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