Autumn Term 2021/22

Pupil absence in schools in England: autumn term

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See all updates (1) for Autumn Term 2021/22
  1. Additional section and underlying data added presenting absence rates by pupil characteristics including FSM, SEN, year group, gender, ethnicity and language.

Introduction

This release looks at pupil absence in the Autumn term 2021, including by reason and school types.

Data is given on pupil absences as well as where a pupil was recorded as not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus (Code X). Where a pupil was not attending in these circumstances, schools were expected to provide immediate access to remote education. For the autumn term 2021, this category should mostly have been used to record where a pupil was absent from school with symptoms of COVID-19 whilst awaiting the results of a test. This differs to previous terms when this code was also used where pupils were advised to shield, were quarantining after returning from abroad, or were in class bubbles advised to isolate. Throughout the pandemic, schools were advised to record pupils with a confirmed case of COVID-19 as absent due to illness (Code I).

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. 


Headline facts and figures - 2021/22

This publication uses several terms to understand attendance in school.

Absence - refers to children who are absent for authorised and unauthorised reasons, this includes children who are absent with a positive COVID case – but does not include children who are isolating but have not had a confirmed positive case, for example as a contact.

Not attending in circumstances relating to COVID refers to children who are not attending school due to public health guidelines. It does not include absence due to positive COVID cases. For the autumn term 2021, this should mostly have been used to record where a pupil was absent from school with symptoms of COVID-19 whilst awaiting the results of a test or as a contact. In previous terms this code was also used where pupils were advised to shield, were quarantining after returning from abroad, or were in class bubbles advised to isolate. In these circumstances schools are expected to provide remote education. 

Total number of children out of school refers to the sum of absent children and those not attending in circumstances relating to COVID – together this figure shows the total number of children not in school in person for any reason

Persistent absence -  pupils are identified as a persistent absentee if they miss 10% or more of their possible sessions. This includes absence with a positive COVID case. 10% of sessions translates to around 7 days of absence across the autumn term.

More pupils were in school in autumn term 2021

When combining absence with not attending due to COVID circumstances, we see a decrease from a combined rate of 11.7% in autumn 2020 to 8.5% in autumn 2021. This means a higher rate of pupils in attendance in schools in autumn 2021 compared to the previous autumn. See chart in ‘Not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus’ section.

Absence rates have increased in Autumn 2021

  • 6.9% of possible sessions were recorded as absence in autumn term 2021/22, having been consistently below 5% in recent years. The majority of the increase in absence was due to illness, with accounted for 4.4% of possible sessions, an increase from 2.5% in autumn 2020. Illness includes where positive COVID-19 cases were reported.
  • 23.5% of pupils were persistently absent in the autumn term 2021 (i.e. missed 10% or more sessions). Again, this has been driven by illness (including positive COVID cases), with 14.0% of all pupils missing 10% or more sessions due to illness alone.

Not attending due to COVID circumstances decreased to 1.6%, the lowest level since the pandemic began 

  • Not attending due to COVID circumstances decreased to 1.6% in autumn 2021. This was 7.0% in the previous autumn, and 21.3% for the 2020/21 academic year in full. This decrease is driven by the change in requirements for close contacts to isolate. In previous terms this code was used where pupils were advised to shield, were quarantining after returning from abroad, or were in class bubbles advised to isolate. In these circumstances schools are expected to provide remote education. For the autumn term 2021, this category should mostly have been used to record where a pupil was absent from school with symptoms of COVID-19 whilst awaiting the results of a test. Where a pupil was not attending in these circumstances, schools were expected to provide immediate access to remote education.
  • 4.0% of pupils had 10% or more sessions recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances in the autumn term 2021, compared to 31.0% in autumn 2020

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Data is collected on the number of sessions recorded as not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19). 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. For the autumn term 2021, this category should mostly have been used to record where a pupil was absent from school with symptoms of COVID-19 whilst awaiting the results of a test or isolating as close contacts. These figures do not include absence due to positive COVID cases. Where a pupil was not attending in these circumstances, schools were expected to provide immediate access to remote education. 

For the autumn term 2021, this category should mostly have been used to record where a pupil was absent from school with symptoms of COVID-19 whilst awaiting the results of a test. 

This differs to previous terms when this code was also used where pupils were advised to shield, were quarantining after returning from abroad, or were in class bubbles advised to isolate. 

When a pupil has initially self-isolated 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.

Not attending due to circumstances related to coronavirus decreased

Further to sessions recorded as absence, the rate of sessions recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances decreased to 1.6% in autumn 2021. This was 7.0% in the previous autumn, and 21.3% for the 2020/21 academic year in full. 

Two-thirds (66.1%) of enrolments had zero sessions recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances in the autumn term, while 4.0% had ten percent or more sessions recorded under this category.

These figures reflects that public health guidance in the 2020/21 academic year included both stricter rules around isolation such as class bubbles, and a period of national restrictions where attendance was prioritised for vulnerable and key worker children during which all other pupils would be recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances. For the autumn term 2021, this category should mostly have been used to record where a pupil was absent from school with symptoms of COVID-19 whilst awaiting the results of a test or isolating as close contacts. These figures do not include absence due to positive COVID cases. 

More pupils were in school in autumn term 2021

When combining absence with not attending due to COVID circumstances, we saw a decrease from a combined rate of 11.7% in autumn 2020 to 8.5% in autumn 2021. This means a higher rate of pupils in attendance in schools in autumn 2021 compared to the previous autumn. 

Further information

This publication looks further at absence rates in the Autumn Term. Further data on attendance during the  Autumn Term is published in the ‘Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak’ statistics release. 

Full guidance on recording attendance in relation to coronavirus (COVID-19) during the 2021 to 2022 academic year is available online at Addendum: recording attendance in relation to coronavirus (COVID-19) during the 2021 to 2022 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.

Absence

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

From 2020/21, not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19) has not been counted as an absence, but has been included as a possible session in the calculation of absence rates. This has included where pupils were self-isolating and shielding, including when a class or bubble has been required to stay at home. During these sessions, pupils were expected to not attend or were prohibited from attending and so they are treated separately and not counted within the standard absence rates within this publication.

For the autumn term 2021, this category should mostly have been used to record where a pupil was absent from school with symptoms of COVID-19 whilst awaiting the results of a test.

Overall absence increased, driven by an increase in illness absence (including positive COVID cases)

The overall absence rate in autumn 2021 was 6.9%, the equivalent of 33 million days. This compares to 4.7% in autumn 2020, and 4.9% in autumn 2019/20, the last term of data prior to the pandemic. 

The increase in absence was largely driven by a large increase in illness absence (including positive COVID cases), which increased from 2.5% to 4.4%. This rate includes absence for positive coronavirus cases and UK Health Security Agency data shows large increases in weekly COVID-19 case rates for year groups including children of school age over this period, in particular compared to the previous autumn term. 

Other reasons showing notable change include:

  • Unauthorised other  - increased to 1.2% in autumn 2021, from 1.1% in autumn 2020 and 0.8% in autumn 2019 (pre-pandemic).
  • Unauthorised holiday - increased to 0.3% in autumn 2021, from 0.1% in autumn 2020, but still lower than 0.4% in autumn 2019.
  • Authorised other - increased to 0.5% in autumn 2021, from 0.4% in autumn 2020 and 0.3% in autumn 2019.

Both authorised and unauthorised absence increased

Across all reasons, the authorised absence rate increased from 3.3% in autumn 2020 to 5.3% in autumn 2021, driven by the increases in illness absence (including positive COVID cases), while unauthorised absence increased from 1.4% in autumn 2020 to 1.6% in autumn 2021, driven by the increase in ‘unauthorised other’ reasons and unauthorised holiday.

Absence increased across all school types

Absence rates follow a similar pattern across school types. Overall absence

  • increased in primary schools from 3.7% in autumn 2020 to 5.7% in autumn 2021
  • increased in secondary schools from 5.7% to 8.2%
  • increased in special schools from 10.6% to 12.8%

The increases seen in authorised and unauthorised absence was also seen across each school type.  

Amount of absence and non-attendance

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) (for example, isolating whilst waiting for a test result or as a close contact but not including positive COVID cases) are not counted as an absence but do count towards possible sessions as during these sessions these pupils could not attend school .

Largely due to illness, including positive COVID cases, the number of persistent absentees increased

These figures include absence due to illness (including positive COVID cases).

Over 1.6 million pupils (23.5% of all pupils) missed 10% of more of their possible sessions in autumn term 2021. 10% of sessions translates to around 7 days of absence across the term. This compares to 13.0% of pupil enrolments in autumn 2020, and 12.1% of pupils across the 2020/21 academic year.

This is driven by increases in illness absence (including positive COVID cases), with 14.0% of pupils missing 10% or more sessions due to illness absence alone. 

Further, 98,000 pupils missed 50% or more sessions in the autumn term (1.4% of all pupils). This compares to 93,500 in autumn 2020 and 60,200 in autumn 2019, the final term before the pandemic.

The increase in persistent absence is seen across school types

These figures include absence due to illness (including positive COVID cases).

The increase in persistent absentees missing 10% or more is seen across all school types - 

  • in primary schools, increasing from 9.9% in autumn 2020 to 19.5% in autumn 2021
  • in secondary schools, increasing from 16.3% in autumn 2020 to 27.7% in autumn 2021
  • in special schools, increasing from 29.2% in autumn 2020 to 39.4% in autumn 2021

while the rate of pupils missing 50% or more increased in both secondary (2.1% of pupils) and special schools (5.5%), the rate decreased for pupils in primary schools (0.6% in autumn 2021, down from 0.9% in autumn 2020). 

Absence in pupil referral units

Absence rates in pupil referral units have increased

These figures include absence due to illness (including positive COVID cases).

Overall absence increased in pupil referral units, from 31.0% in autumn 2020 to 35.6% in autumn 2021. This is driven by increases in both authorised and unauthorised absence.

75.7% of enrolments missed 10% or more sessions, an increase from 68.0% in autumn 2020, with 31.0% of enrolments missing 50% or more possible sessions, an increase from 26.0%.

Absence by pupil characteristics

From 2020/21, not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19) has not been counted as an absence, but has been included as a possible session in the calculation of absence rates. This has included where pupils were self-isolating and shielding, including when a class or bubble has been required to stay at home. During these sessions, pupils were expected to not attend or were prohibited from attending and so they are treated separately and not counted within the standard absence rates within this publication. 

For the autumn term 2021, this category should mostly have been used to record where a pupil was absent from school with symptoms of COVID-19 whilst awaiting the results of a test. This category does include absence due to positive COVID cases.  

Across all pupils, overall absence increased, driven by an increase in illness absence (including positive COVID cases). This section looks at how that rate varies across different groups of pupils. 

For comparison, the overall absence rate in autumn 2021 was 6.9%, while the persistent absence rate in autumn 2021 was 23.5%. 

Free school meals (FSM) 

The overall absence rate for pupils who are eligible for free school meals was 9.7% in autumn 2021, up from 7.8% in autumn 2020. This compares to 6.0% for those pupils who were not eligible for free school meals. 

33.6% of pupils who were eligible for free school meals were persistently absent in autumn 2021, compared to 20.0% of pupils who were not eligible.   

Further to sessions recorded as absence, for pupils who were eligible for free school meals, 1.9% of sessions were recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances compared to 1.5% of sessions for pupils who were not eligible.  

Special educational needs (SEN)  

The overall absence rate for pupils with an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP) was 11.6% in autumn 2021, up from 9.4% in autumn 2020. This compares to 9.1% for pupils with SEN support and 6.3% with no identified SEN. 

35.9% of pupils with an EHCP were persistently absent in autumn 2021, compared to 30.6% for pupils with SEN support and 21.5% for pupils with no identified SEN. 

2.3% of sessions were recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances for pupils with an EHC plan, compared to 1.8% of sessions for pupils with SEN support and 1.6% for pupils with no identified SEN.  

Year groups

Typically absence rates increase as age increases. The highest absence rates were in year 11 at 9.7% and year 10 at 9.3%, compared to 6.9% for all pupils. This is a similar pattern to previous years, in autumn 2020 the absence rate for year 11 pupils was 6.9% and for year 10 pupils was 6.6%, compared to 4.7% across all pupils. 

Persistent absence ranged from 18.0% in year 3, to 31.7% in year 11 in autumn 2021.  

As with other groups, these increases from previous years are driven by increases in illness absence, including positive COVID cases.  

Across age groups the rate of sessions recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances ranged from 1.4% in year 7 to 1.8% in year 9. 

Ethnic groups

Traveller of Irish Heritage and Gypsy/Roma pupils had the highest overall absence rates at 20.7% and 16.5% in autumn 2021.  Chinese and Black African pupils had the lowest rates at 3.4% and 3.9%. This follows similar trends to previous years. Similar patterns are shown in persistent absence rates. 

The rate of sessions recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances ranged from 1.0% for Black African pupils to 2.3% for Gypsy/Roma pupils. 

Gender

The overall absence rate for both boys and girls was 6.9%, while persistent absence was 23.6% for girls and 23.4% for boys respectively. The rate of sessions recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances was 1.6% for both boys and girls.  

Geographical variations

Absence rates vary across region from 6.0% in Inner London to 7.4% in the North East and South West. This includes absence due to illness (including positive COVID cases).

Persistent absence also varies across regions from 19.0% in Inner London to 26.0% in the South West. This includes absence due to illness (including positive COVID cases).

The amount of sessions recorded as not attending due to COVID circumstances varies from 1.3% in the North East to 1.9% in the South East.

The map below displays absence rates by local authority.

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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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