Autumn Term 2020/21

Pupil absence in schools in England: autumn term

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  1. Ethnicity Major groups added to the underlying data

  2. Absence by pupil characteristics section added, plus additional datasets '06 - Absence by pupil characteristics - national' and '07 - Absence by pupil characteristics - local authority'

This release looks at pupil attendance during the Autumn 2020 term. This term coincided with the reopening of schools on 1 September 2020. Schools were expected to be open throughout the whole of the Autumn term although in some schools, where there was a case of coronavirus, pupils were sent home in bubbles to self-isolate

This is the first absence data collected via the school census covering the pandemic. School level data has been collected via the Department's education settings survey on pupil attendance throughout the pandemic, but this release is derived from pupil level data from which further analysis, such as the amount of time missed, can be derived. 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 related to coronavirus). This includes pupils who were self-isolating, pupils who were advised to shield because they were clinically extremely vulnerable, pupils quarantining after returning from abroad and class bubbles who were sent home and advised to isolate. Schools were advised to record pupils with a confirmed case of coronavirus as absent due to illness.


Headline facts and figures - 2020/21

  • The overall absence rate in Autumn 2020/21 was 4.7%. This was similar to last year (4.9%). This does not include sessions where pupils were not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19) for which a further 7.0% of sessions were recorded. 60% of pupils had some period where they did not attend in circumstances relating to coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Despite including illness due to positive coronavirus cases, the rate of absence due to illness, 2.5%, has decreased compared to last year (2.8%). This corresponds with  Public Health England data showing that cases of flu and other seasonal respiratory illnesses have decreased. Other types of absence, including holiday absence and medical appointments, have also decreased as a likely result of the pandemic.
  • Unauthorised absence has increased in mainstream settings but decreased in Pupil Referral Units (PRUs).
  • In primary schools, where positive coronavirus rates were lower and unauthorised absence is historically less prevalent, these changes have resulted in an overall decrease in absence.

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

Historically, between 4% and 5% of school is missed due to absence during the Autumn term. This year, an additional 7% of sessions were recorded as not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19). This represents an additional 33 million days, or 5 days (one week) per pupil. 

This includes pupils self-isolating and shielding, including when a class or bubble has been 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)

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.

Further information

This publication looks further at absence rates in the Autumn Term. Further data was collected on attendance during the  Autumn Term and 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 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.

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. 

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 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.

4.7 % of sessions were missed due to absence during the 2020/21 Autumn term. This represents a further 22 million days (or 3 days per pupil) on top of the 33 million days where pupils were not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19). 

This was similar to last year (4.9%) and has remained stable across all school types except primary schools which saw a decrease from 4.3% to 3.7%.

This has been driven by some unique movements in the reasons for absence:

  • Illness absence reduced. Illness is historically the most common reason for absence, accounting for over half of absence and heavily influences overall absence rates. While this year's figure additionally includes absence due to positive coronavirus cases, Public Health England data suggests that cases of flu and other seasonal respiratory illnesses have decreased and the absence data reflects this. Public Health England cite measures such as social distancing, wearing of masks and additional handwashing as contributing factors, as well as increased flu vaccinations for those shielding and for their households.
  • Restrictions on travel and closures across the tourism sector have driven a reduction in holiday absence.
  • Absence taken to attend medical appointments has also reduced, likely driven by lockdown restrictions and medical appointments being delayed unless in more urgent circumstances.

Absence taken due to “other unauthorised reasons" has been increasing steadily in recent years but this year increased at a greater rate from 0.8% to 1.1%.

Taken together, these movements has resulted in authorised absence decreasing but unauthorised absence showing a small increase.

In primary schools, where positive coronavirus rates were lower and other unauthorised reasons are historically less prevalent (this reason is linked to pupil behaviour), these changes have resulted in an overall decrease in absence. 

The absence rate in pupil referral units (PRUs) is typically much higher than for other schools and was 31.0% in Autumn 2020/21. This is a reduction from 2019/20 and is seen across almost all absence reasons, including (unlike mainstream schools) unauthorised reasons. Illness, similar to other school types, is the biggest driver of absence rates in PRUs. 

Amount of absence and non-attendance

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 attend school .

13% of pupils were persistently absent during the autumn term 2020/21.

In recent years, trends have been consistent across school types, however, this year, whilst persistent absenteeism in primary and special schools reduced, there has been an increase in secondary schools. The increase in secondary schools (which saw higher rates of coronavirus during the Autumn term) is driven by illness absence as well as the increase in “other unauthorised reasons”.

Amount of time absent and not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus (COVID-19)

The chart below shows how the amount of absence per pupil differs to the amount of not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus (COVID-19), which generally involved longer periods.

40% of pupils had no sessions of not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus (COVID-19) whilst 31% had 10% or more sessions recorded this way.

Absence by pupil characteristics

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 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 toward the overall absence rate and persistent absence rates.

Free School Meals eligibility (FSM)

Pupils eligible for FSM had 8.5% of sessions recorded as not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus, compared to 6.6% for pupils not eligible for FSM.

FSM eligible pupils had an overall absence rate of 7.8%, compared to 3.8% for non-FSM pupils. In Autumn 2019 the rates were 7.6% for FSM eligible pupils and 4.3% for pupils not eligible for FSM.

24.1% of FSM eligible pupils were persistently absent in Autumn 2020, compared to 9.6% of pupils not eligible for FSM. In Autumn 2019 the rates were 23.8% and 10.5%.

Rates were slightly lower for those who were FSM eligible at some point in the last six years.

Special Educational Needs (SEN)

Pupils with SEN had higher rates of absence, persistent absenteeism and not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus. 

For pupils with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, 8.6% of sessions were recorded as not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus. This compares to 7.4% for pupils with SEN support and 6.8% with no SEN.

The overall absence rate for pupils with an EHC plan was 9.4%, compared to 6.6% for pupils with SEN support and 4.1% with no SEN. These were broadly similar to Autumn 2019.

Persistent absence was also higher for pupils with SEN. For pupils with an EHC plan the persistent absentee rate was 25.6% and 19.3% for those with SEN support, compared to 11.1% with no SEN. These rates are slightly lower than Autumn 2019.

Ethnic groups

Pupils of the Gypsy/Roma and Pakistani ethnic groups had the highest rates of sessions recorded as not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus in Autumn 2020, at 10.9% and 10.8% respectively. This compares to 7.0% across all pupils. Pupils of the Chinese ethnic group had the lowest rate at 6.1%. 

Traveller of Irish Heritage and Gypsy/Roma pupils had the highest rates of overall absence at 24.1% and 18.6% respectively, up from 17.0% and 13.0% in Autumn 2019. Chinese and Black African pupils had the lowest overall absence rates at 2.7% and 3.1% respectively.

56.7% of pupils from the Traveller of Irish Heritage ethnic group were persistently absent in Autumn 2020 and 52.6% of Gypsy/Roma pupils. These were the ethnic groups with the highest rates of persistent absence in Autumn 2019. 

National curriculum year group

Pupils in year group 10 had the highest rate of sessions recorded as not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (apart from pupils outside the normal year group structure) at 10.0%. Year group 3 had the lowest at 5.4%.

Pupils in year group 11 had the highest overall absence rate at 6.9%. The lowest were year groups 2 and 3 at 3.5%. In Autumn 2019 the highest rates were year groups 10 and 11 at 6.5%, the lowest were year groups 3 and 4 at 4.1%.

Persistent absence rates ranged from 8.9% in year group 3 to 19.3% in year group 11.

Gender

Boys and girls had similar rates recorded as not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus, at 7.0% and 6.9% respectively. For boys and girls overall absence rates were 4.7% and 4.6% respectively, persistent absence at 13.2% and 12.8% respectively. 

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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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