Autumn Term 2018/19

Pupil absence in schools in England: autumn term



This is the first of three absence publications relating to the 2018 to 2019 academic year, and relates to the autumn term only.


Headline facts and figures - 2018/19

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About this release

This statistical release reports on absence of pupils of compulsory school age in state-funded primary, state-funded secondary and special schools during the Autumn 2018 term. Most time series relate to primary and secondary schools only as data relating to special schools has only been collected on a termly basis since 2016/17. Information on absence in pupil referral units and for pupils aged four is also included. The Department uses two key measures to monitor pupil absence – overall and persistent absence. Absence by reason is also included in this release.

Figures are available at national, regional, local authority and school level. Figures held in this release are used for policy development as key indicators in behaviour and school attendance policy. Schools and local authorities also use the statistics to compare their local absence rates to regional and national averages for different pupil groups.

Absence rates

Overall absence rate definition

The overall absence rate is the total number of overall absence sessions for all pupils as a percentage of the total number of possible sessions for all pupils, where overall absence is the sum of authorised and unauthorised absence and one session is equal to half a day.

Similar rates are calculated using authorised and unauthorised absence only.

The latest data shows that:

  • The overall absence rate for state-funded primary, secondary and special schools decreased from 4.4 per cent in Autumn 2017 to 4.3 per cent in Autumn 2018. The decrease occurred across all school types and continues the general downward trend since Autumn 2008.
  • Absence rates vary by school type: overall absence in primary schools was 3.7 per cent, in secondary schools 4.9 per cent and in special schools 9.7 per cent.
  • The total number of days missed due to this absence was 20.8 million and the average number of days missed per enrolment was 3.0 days. Both are the same as last year.
  • Authorised absence has decreased (from 3.3 to 3.1 per cent) and unauthorised absence has remained stable (1.2 per cent).
  • The overall absence rate for four year olds (who are not of compulsory school age) has decreased from 5.1 in Autumn 2017 to 4.7 per cent in Autumn 2018.
  • The overall absence rate for pupils in pupil referral units (including alternative provision academies and free schools), decreased from 33.6 per cent in Autumn 2017 to 33.1 per cent in Autumn 2018. Authorised absence decreased (from 19.2 to 18.4 per cent) and unauthorised absence increased (from 14.3 to 14.7 per cent).

Persistent absence

Persistent absence definition

A pupil enrolment is identified as a persistent absentee if they miss 10% or more of their possible sessions.

The persistent absentee measure changed as of the start of the 2015/16 academic year. Time series data in this release has been recalculated using the new methodology but caution should be used when interpreting these series as they may be impacted by the change in the measure itself. For more information on this and on the methodologies used in previous years, please see the “guide to absence statistics”.

The latest data shows that:

  • The persistent absence rate across state-funded primary, state-funded secondary and special schools decreased from 11.7 per cent in Autumn 2017 to 10.9 per cent in Autumn 2018. This has been driven by reductions in the absence taken due to illness (see “Reasons for absence” section).
  • The percentage of enrolments in pupil referral units who are persistent absentees decreased from 72.3 per cent in Autumn 2017 to 70.7 per cent in Autumn 2018.

Reasons for absence

Variation across school types

The larger absence rates in special schools is driven by higher rates due to illness (4.2 per cent compared with 2.1 and 2.6 per cent in state-funded primary and secondary schools), medical/dental appointments (1.1 per cent compared with 0.2 and 0.3), other authorised circumstances (1.7 per cent compared with 0.2 and 0.3) and other unauthorised circumstances (1.7 per cent compared with 0.4 and 1.1).  

Absence due to illness

Illness is the most common reason for absence (accounting for 55.5 per cent of all absences) and heavily influences overall absence rates.It is the main driver for the overall decrease over the long term and since autumn 2017.

Reasons for persistent absence

Illness has also been the driver for the reduction in the persistent absentee rate compared to autumn 2017. Amongst persistent absentees, the proportion of sessions missed due to illness decreased from 8.4 per cent to 8.1 per cent and there were 49,000 fewer persistent absentees with this reason.

Absence by reason for persistent absentees, Autumn term 2017 to Autumn term 2018, England (state-funded primary, secondary and special schools)

 Absence rates 
 Autumn 2017Autumn 2018difference
Medical/dental appointments0.80.9-
Religious observance0.00.0-
Study leave0.00.0-
Traveller absence0.10.1-
Agreed family holiday0.30.3-
Excluded, no alternative provision0.50.6-
Other authorised circumstances1.41.6+0.2ppts
Total authorised absence11.711.7-
Family holiday not agreed1.82.0+0.2ppts
Arrived late0.30.4-
Other unauthorised circumstances4.44.9+0.5ppts
No reason yet0.30.2-
Total unauthorised absence6.87.6+0.7ppts

Absence due to holidays

The unauthorised holiday rate has increase slightly, continuing a trend, but remains at 0.4 rounded to 1 decimal place. Unauthorised holiday absence has been increasing gradually since 2006/07 whilst authorised holiday absence is now much lower but has remained steady over recent years. From September 2013, amended regulations stated that term time leave may only be granted in exceptional circumstances, which explains the sharp fall in authorised holiday absence between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

Help and support


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.

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

Absence and exclusions statistics


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