Autumn Term 2019/20

Pupil absence in schools in England: autumn term

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  1. Due to disruption to the Spring and Summer terms in the 2019/20 academic year caused by COVID-19, there will be no two-term and full-year release for 2019/20. Two sections have, therefore, been added to this release: one providing absence rates by pupil characteristics that would normally be first published in the later releases, and another showing the historic differences between Autumn term and full-year rates.

This publication presents absence statistics relating to the 2019/20 autumn term only.


Headline facts and figures - 2019/20

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Absence rates

Absence rate definition

The absence rate is the total number of sessions missed due to overall absence 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.

Overall absence

The overall absence rate for state-funded primary, secondary and special schools increased from 4.3 per cent in Autumn 2018 to 4.9 per cent in Autumn 2019. The increase occurred across all school types and was mostly driven by an increase in the authorised absence rate, particularly as a result of illness absence which remains the main driver of the absence rate.

Overall absence rates vary by school type. In Autumn 2019 the overall absence rate in 

  • primary schools was 4.3 per cent,
  • secondary schools was 5.6 per cent,
  • special schools was 10.5 per cent.

Authorised absence 

Authorised absence has increased from 3.1 per cent in Autumn 2018 to 3.6 per cent in Autumn 2019. This has been driven by the increase in absence taken due to illness (see “Reasons for absence” section below).

Unauthorised absence

Unauthorised absence has increased from 1.2 per cent in Autumn 2018 to 1.3 per cent in Autumn 2019. 

Total number of days missed

The total number of days missed increased for overall absence has increased from 20.8 million in Autumn 2018 to 24.2 million in Autumn 2019. The average number of days missed per enrolment increased from 3.0 days to 3.4 days.

Absence for four year olds

The overall absence rate for four year olds (who are not of compulsory school age) has increased from 4.7 in Autumn 2018 to 5.5 per cent in Autumn 2019.

Absence in pupil referral units

The overall absence rate for pupils in pupil referral units and alternative provision academies and free schools, increased from 33.1 per cent in Autumn 2018 to 34.4 per cent in Autumn 2019. 

Authorised absence increased from 18.4 to 19.0 per cent and unauthorised absence also increased from 14.7 to 15.4 per cent.

Persistent absence

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

The latest data shows that:

  • The persistent absence rate across state-funded primary, state-funded secondary and special schools increased from 10.9 per cent in Autumn 2018 to 13.1 per cent in Autumn 2019. Like overall absence, this has been driven by the increase in absence taken due to illness.
  • The percentage of enrolments in pupil referral units who were persistently absent increased from 70.7 per cent in Autumn 2018 to 73.2 per cent in Autumn 2019.

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”.

Reasons for absence

Absence due to illness

Illness is the most common reason for absence (accounting for 58 per cent of all absences) and heavily influences overall absence rates. It is the main driver for the overall increase since autumn 2018 with the number of sessions missed due to illness having increased by 22 per cent.

Absence due to holidays

The unauthorised holiday rate is 0.4 per cent, the same as in Autumn 2018. The rate of authorised holiday absence is also unchanged at 0.1 per cent. 

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

Variation across school types

The larger absence rates in special schools is driven by higher rates due to illness (4.7 per cent compared with 2.6 per cent and 3.1 per cent in state-funded primary and secondary schools respectively), medical/dental appointments (1.1 per cent compared with 0.2 per cent and 0.3 per cent), other authorised circumstances (1.9 per cent compared with 0.2 per cent and 0.3 per cent) and other unauthorised circumstances (1.8 per cent compared with 0.5 per cent and 1.2 per cent).  

Absence by pupil characteristics

Summary figures by various pupil characteristics are provided below for Autumn term 2019/20. As pupil characteristics have not been published routinely in previous years for Autumn term, comparisons are to the full academic year 2018/19.

Ethnic groups

Overall absence rate:

  • Traveller of Irish heritage pupils and Gypsy / Roma pupils had the highest overall absence rates at 17.0% and 13.0% respectively. (These groups also had the highest rates in the full 2018/19 academic year, at 18.0% and 12.6% respectively.)
  • Chinese and Black African ethnicity pupils had the lowest overall absence rates at 2.1% and 2.9% respectively. (These groups also had the lowest rates in 2018/19 at 2.3% and 2.9% respectively.)
  • Ethnic groups with higher overall absence also show higher rates of persistent absence.

Free school meals (FSM) eligibility

Overall absence rate:

  • pupils known to be eligible for and claiming FSM had an overall absence rate of 7.6%, compared to 4.3% for non-FSM pupils. (Rates for the full 2018/19 academic year were 7.5% and 4.2%.)

Persistent absence rate:

  • pupils known to be eligible for and claiming FSM had a persistent absence rate of 23.8% - more than double the rate of non-FSM pupils at 10.5%. (Rates in 2018/19 were 22.8% and 8.3%).

Gender

Overall absence rate:

  • boys and girls - very similar at 5.0% and 4.8% respectively. (Rates for full 2018/19 academic year were 4.8% and 4.6%).

Persistent absence rate:

  • boys and girls - similar at 13.5% and 12.8% respectively. (In 2018/19 11.1% and 10.6%).

National curriculum year group

Overall absence rate:

  • pupils in national curriculum year groups 3 and 4 had the lowest rates at 4.1%. (Also lowest at 3.9% for full 2018/19 academic year).
  • pupils in national curriculum year groups 10 and 11 had the highest rates at 6.5% (excluding pupils outside the normal year group structure). (In 2018/19 year 10 and 11 rates were the highest at 6.3% and 6.4% respectively). These year groups also had the highest levels of both authorised and unauthorised absence.

This trend is repeated for the persistent absence rate.

Full year data excludes year 11 pupils in the second half of the summer term due to high levels of study leave and other authorised absences.

Special educational need (SEN)

Overall absence rate:

  • pupils with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan had an overall absence rate of 9.2% and pupils with SEN support had a rate of 6.8%. This compares to a rate of 4.5% for pupils with no identified SEN. (Full 2018/19 academic year rates were 8.7%, 6.5%, 4.3% respectively).

Persistent absence rate:

  • pupils with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan had a persistent absence rate of 26.3% - more than two times higher than rate for pupils with no identified SEN (11.3%). (2018/19 rates 24.6% and 9.0% respectively).

 

Differences between data on pupil characteristics and other Autumn 2019/20 data

There are small differences between the totals of Autumn 2019/20 absence data matched with pupil characteristics and the absence data without characteristics provided in this same release. Most national level absence rates are the same in both sets of data (at 2 decimal places). The reason for the difference is that additional quality assurance during the matching process for pupil characteristics resulted in data from 14 schools being removed from the matched data. They were sponsored academies and free schools that had opened part way through the term and appear to have incorrectly provided data for the whole term, including data for schools that subsequently closed.

Comparing absence in Autumn to the full academic Year

Below is a comparison of absence rates for the Autumn term and full academic years in recent years. 

Note - Due to disruption to the Spring and Summer terms in the 2019/20 academic year caused by COVID-19, no further absence figures will be published for the 2019/20 academic year.

Overall Absence rates - State-funded primary, state-funded secondary and special schools, England

 Autumn termFull academic year
2016/174.4%4.7%
2017/184.4%4.8%
2018/194.3%4.7%
2019/204.9% 

 

Persistent Absence rates - State-funded primary, state-funded secondary and special schools, England

 Autumn termFull academic year
2016/1711.6%10.8%
2017/1811.7%11.2%
2018/1910.9%10.9%
2019/2013.1% 

Note that termly absence data for special schools has been available from 2016/17.

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.

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