Academic Year 2018/19

The link between absence and attainment at KS2 and KS4

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Published

A summary of the link between absence and attainment at key stage 2 (KS2) and key stage 4 (KS4). The data covers mainstream schools in England only.

This publication provides national level figures based on school census, KS2 and KS4 assessment data. Data files are available in the ‘Explore data and files’ section on this page for further detail and analysis.


Headline facts and figures - 2018/19

This release focuses on the link between absence and attainment at the end of key stage 2 (KS2) and key stage 4 (KS4) in 2019. 

  • Pupils with higher attainment at KS2 and KS4 had lower levels of absence over the key stage compared to those with lower attainment. 
    • Pupils who did not achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths in 2019 had an overall absence rate of 4.7% over the key stage, compared with 3.5% among pupils who achieved the expected standard and 2.7% among those who achieved the higher standard.
    • Pupils who did not achieve grade 9 to 4 in English and maths GCSEs in 2019 had an overall absence rate of 8.8% over the key stage, compared with 5.2% among pupils who achieved a grade 4 and 3.7% among pupils who achieved grade 9 to 5 in both English and maths.
  • Generally, the higher the percentage of sessions missed across the key stage at KS2 and KS4, the lower the level of attainment at the end of the key stage. 
    • Among pupils with no missed sessions over KS2, 83.9% achieved the expected standard compared to 40.2% of pupils who were persistently absent. 
    • Among pupils with no missed sessions over KS4, 83.7% achieved grades 9 to 4 in English and maths compared to 35.6% of pupils who were persistently absent.
  • These trends are similar to those seen in previous years, published in the following research reports: 'The link between absence and attainment at KS2 and KS4: 2012 to 2013 academic year' and 'Absence and attainment at key stages 2 and 4: 2013 to 2014'.

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Background and context

This report investigates the link between key stage 2 (KS2) and key stage 4 (KS4) attainment and different levels of pupil absence. The analysis is based on the attainment of pupils at the end of KS2 and KS4 in state-funded mainstream schools in the 2018/19 academic year, compared to their level of absence across all years in the relevant key stage. This analysis uses 2018/19 attainment data for KS2 and KS4. For KS2, 2018/19 data is the latest available as all primary assessments were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For KS4, 2018/19 data is used as this is the latest available data not impacted by the pandemic.

This report updates findings previously published in the following research reports: 'The link between absence and attainment at KS2 and KS4: 2012 to 2013 academic year' and 'Absence and attainment at key stages 2 and 4: 2013 to 2014'.

Absence is not the only factor with a link to pupil attainment. There are other complex relationships, such as the strong link from prior attainment and the link between different pupil characteristics and attainment, which should also be taken into account. This release aims only to provide an overview of the link between pupil absence and attainment based on available evidence. 

Parents of children of compulsory school age (aged between 5 and 15 at the start of the academic year) are, by law, required to ensure that their children receive a suitable education through regular attendance at school or otherwise. The Department for Education collects each pupil’s overall sessions missed and number of possible sessions available to them, where a session is equivalent to half a day of school. Further definitions and detail are available in the accompanying methodology.

The link between absence and attainment at key stage 2

Key stage 2 (KS2) assessments are taken by pupils at the end of primary school education, with this key stage being taught over four years (year three to year six). At the end of KS2, pupils are assessed in reading, writing, grammar, punctuation and spelling, maths and science. In this release, the proportion of pupils reaching the expected standard in reading, writing and maths and the proportion of pupils reaching the higher standard in reading, writing and maths is considered. See the methodology for further information on key stage 2 assessments.

Overall absence rate over the key stage by attainment in KS2

Pupils with higher KS2 attainment in 2019 had lower levels of absence over the key stage compared to those with lower attainment. 

Pupils who did not achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths in 2019 had an overall absence rate of 4.7% over the key stage, compared with 3.5% among pupils who achieved the expected standard and 2.7% among those who achieved the higher standard (see Figure 1).

Attainment in key stage 2 assessment by levels of overall absence split into percentage point bands

The higher the percentage of sessions missed across key stage 2 (KS2), the lower the level of attainment at the end of the key stage (see Figure 2). 

The number of pupils in the 30-35 absence rate percentage point band and above represent a small proportion of pupils at the end of KS2 (less than 500 pupils per point band). Therefore, figures for pupils with absence rates above 30 percent are volatile.

Persistent absence

A pupil is considered persistently absent if they miss 10% or more of their possible sessions over the key stage.

Pupils who were persistently absent had lower levels of attainment at the end of KS2 than other pupils:

  • Of those who were persistently absent, 40.2% achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths compared to 83.9% of pupils with no missed sessions and 71.9% who missed between 0 and 5%. 
  • Similarly, 2.5% of persistently absent pupils achieved the higher standard compared to 21.8% of pupils with no missed sessions and 13.1% who missed between 0 and 5%.

Attainment in key stage 2 assessment by levels of overall absence split into pupil percentile bands 

Figure 3 shows an alternative presentation of the information, this time showing key stage 2 (KS2) attainment by levels of overall absence split into bands with equal numbers of pupils in each (e.g. so that the first band includes the five percent of all pupils with the lowest overall absence rates). See the methodology for further information on how the data has been grouped into bands in this chart.

Figure 3 shows a gradual decrease in KS2 achievement as overall absence rates increase. Specifically, 80.9% of pupils with the lowest five percent of overall absence rates achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared to 41.1% of pupils with the highest five percent of overall absence rates. 

The link between absence and attainment at key stage 4

Exams are taken by pupils at the end of key stage 4 (KS4), with this key stage typically being taught over two years (from year 10 to year 11). In this release we have considered KS4 attainment in English and maths GCSEs and the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). GCSE grades range from 9-1, with 9 being the highest. The EBacc consists of five components - English, maths, science, a language and history or geography. See the methodology for further detail on how attainment is measured at the end of KS4. 

Overall absence rate over the key stage by attainment in KS4

Pupils with higher KS4 attainment in 2019 had lower levels of absence over the key stage compared to those with lower attainment.

Pupils who did not achieve grade 9 to 4 in English and maths GCSEs in 2019 had an overall absence rate of 8.8% over the key stage, compared with 5.2% among pupils who achieved a grade 4 and 3.7% among pupils who achieved grade 9 to 5 in both English and maths (see Figure 4).

Pupils who did not achieve grade 9 to 4 in all components of the EBacc in 2019 had an overall absence rate of 6.6% over the key stage, compared with 3.7% among pupils who achieved a grade 4 and 3.1% among pupils who achieved grade 9 to 5 in all components (see Figure 5).

Attainment in key stage 4 qualifications by levels of overall absence split into percentage point bands 

The higher the percentage of sessions missed across key stage 4 (KS4), the lower the level of attainment at the end of the key stage (see Figure 6). 

Persistent and severe absence

A pupil is considered persistently absent if they miss 10% or more of their possible sessions over the key stage and severely absent if they miss 50% or more possible sessions.

Pupils who were persistently or severely absent had lower levels of attainment at the end of KS4 than other pupils:  

  • Of those pupils who were persistently absent, 35.6% achieved grade 9 to 4 in English and maths. Among severely absent pupils, this figure was 11.3%. This compares to 83.7% of pupils with no missed sessions and 76.3% who missed between 0 and 5%.
  • Similarly, 16.8% of persistently absent pupils and 5.0% of severely absent pupils achieved grade 9 to 5 in English and maths compared to 66.4% of pupils with no missed sessions and 54.4% who missed between 0 and 5%. 
  • Among persistently absent pupils, 4.0% achieved grade 9 to 5 in all components of the EBacc. This figure was 0.3% for severely absent pupils. This compares to 33.9% of pupils with no missed sessions and 23.1% who missed between 0 and 5%. 

Attainment in key stage 4 qualifications by levels of overall absence split into pupil percentile bands

Figure 7 shows an alternative representation of the information, showing key stage 4 (KS4) attainment by levels of overall absence split into bands with equal numbers of pupils. See the methodology for further information on how the data has been grouped. 

Figure 7 shows a steady decrease in KS4 achievement as overall absence rates increase. For example, 83.3% of pupils with the lowest five percent of overall absence achieved grade 9 to 4 in English and maths compared to 24.1% of pupils with the highest five percent of overall absence rates. Similarly, of those pupils with the lowest five percent of overall absence, 65.5% achieved grade 9 to 5 in English and maths compared with 10.4% of those with the highest five percent of overall absence. 

This difference in achievement is also apparent within the English Baccalaureate, where 32.4% of pupils with the lowest five percent of absence achieved grade 9 to 5 in all components of the EBacc, compared with 1.5% of pupils with the highest five percent of overall absence. 

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