Autumn and Spring Term 2020/21

Pupil absence in schools in England: autumn and spring terms

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  1. Further correction to underlying data file '06 - Absence rates by pupil characteristic - Autumn and Spring combined'. This affected overall, authorised and unauthorised absence percentages at regional level

  2. Correction to persistent absence rate in underlying data file '06 - Absence rates by pupil characteristic - Autumn and Spring combined'. This affected the persistent absence percentage for any regional level data. National and local authority level figures were not affected.

This release looks at pupil absence during the Spring 2021 term. For the majority of this 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. 

This is the second set of absence data collected via the school census covering the pandemic, following the publication of data on the Autumn term available here - Pupil absence in schools in England: autumn term, Autumn Term 2020/21 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk)

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. 

Data is given on absence as well as where a pupil could not attend school due to COVID-19 (not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus). As above, 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. 

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


Headline facts and figures - 2020/21

  • 57.5% of sessions in the Spring term 2021 were recorded as not attending due to circumstance related to coronavirus. This includes the period of lockdown from 4 January 2021 where only children of critical workers and vulnerable children could attend school.
  • A further 3.3% sessions were missed due to absence

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Additional context relating to the Spring 2021 term

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.

Not attending due to circumstances related 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

Historically, around 5% of school is missed due to absence during the Spring term. In Spring term 2021, pupils were recorded as not attending 57.5% of school during Spring term 2021 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. 

Table - typical pattern of attendance in Spring term

WeekVulnerable/Key workerAll other children
4 January 2021Attending

Not attending

(with exception of 4 January)

11 January 2021
18 January 2021
25 January 2021
1 February 2021
8 February 2021
15 February 2021Half termHalf term
22 February 2021

Attending

 

Not attending
1 March 2021
8 March 2021Phased return from 8 March
15 March 2021
22 March 2021
29 March 2021

This category also includes when pupils were self-isolating and shielding, or when a class or bubble was required to stay at home. During these sessions, these pupils could not attend school and so they are recorded differently, and not counted as an absence within the standard absence rates within this publication, but are still counted as a possible session. Where a pupil was not attending in these circumstances, schools were expected to provide immediate access to remote education.

The new category collected from schools is 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)

When a pupil was initially self-isolating pending a coronavirus test result, the school should have recorded the pupil as not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus. If the pupil subsequently tested positive the schools were advised to record the pupil as being absent due to illness. They would then be included as an absence within the absence rates within this publication.

Absence during the Spring term

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 the national lockdown 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.

3.3% of sessions in the spring term were missed due to absence. This represents an additional 12.5 million days on top of the 219 million days where pupils were not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19). This is lower than historic termly absence rates.

Those vulnerable children and young people who were eligible to attend during the lockdown period will include those who have an education, health and care (EHC) plan. Overall absence in special schools was substantially higher at 25.5%, compared to around 10% previously. However, this is largely driven by an increase in authorised other absence accounting for 21.6% of possible sessions for pupils in special schools.

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. 

The decrease in overall absence is reflected in the reasons for absence. Historically, the main driver for absence is illness. This has decreased to 0.8% in Spring term 2021 from 2.5% in Autumn 2020.

Other types of absence, including holiday absence and medical appointments, remain low, likely as a result of the pandemic, except for authorised other reasons which has risen to 1.8% and makes up the majority of absence. Again, this reflects 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.

Persistent absence

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.

Persistent absence has decreased overall from the Autumn term to 7.0%. However, for those pupils who were not able to attend, this will be driven by up to 12 weeks of their sessions being recorded as not attending due to circumstances related to coronavirus and no absence being recorded during this period.

A large increase in persistent absence was seen in special schools, increasing from 29.2% in Autumn term to 48.2% in Spring term. 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. 

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