Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE : Almost 400,000 pupils miss at least a month of school [March 2012]

The press release issued by the Department for Education on 28 March 2012.

Almost 400,000 persistently absent children missed at least a month of school, figures reveal today.

The statistics for the 2010/11 school year also show that children on free school meals, or those with special educational needs, were around three times more likely to be persistently absent.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said persistent absence was a serious problem. Much of the work children miss when they are off school is never made up, leaving them at a considerable disadvantage to their peers.

There is clear evidence of a link between poor attendance at school and low levels of achievement. Figures from 2009/10 show that:

  • Of pupils who miss more than 50 per cent of school, only three per cent manage to achieve five A* to Cs, including English and maths.
  • Of pupils who miss between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of school, only 35 per cent manage to achieve five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths.
  • Of pupils who miss less than five per cent of school, 73 per cent achieve five A* to Cs, including English and maths.

A child is defined as persistently absent if they miss 15 per cent or more of school time. Previously, children who missed 20 per cent of school were considered persistent absentees. The Government lowered the threshold so schools could step in to tackle absence sooner – before the problem really takes hold.

Schools and local authorities have a range of strategies and sanctions open to them to tackle the problem. Penalty notices can be issued to parents for unauthorised absences. Department for Education figures, also published today, show that 32,641 notices were issued last year but that 13,629 of those went unpaid or were withdrawn.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb welcomed the downward trend in absence but said he remained concerned about the impact of persistent absence on children’s attainment.

He said:

A hard core of almost 400,000 pupils still missed at least a month of school. We should not underestimate the impact of this on their future prospects.

The effect that poor attendance at school can have on a child’s education can be permanent and damaging. Children who attend school regularly are four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs, including English and Maths, than those who are persistently absent.

We have asked Charlie Taylor to carry out a review on attendance and have lowered the persistent absence threshold, so schools tackle the problem earlier. We are determined to tackle absence before it causes long-term disadvantage.

Overall pupil absence in schools in England continued to fall. The overall absence rate decreased from six per cent in 2009/10 to 5.8 per cent in 2010/11.

More than a million pupils (15.8 per cent) missed half a day or more of school per week, equating to 10 per cent of school time missed.

Authorised absence has fallen to 4.7 per cent in 2010/11 from five per cent in 2009/10.

Unauthorised absence has increased to 1.1 per cent – a rise of 0.1 of a percentage point on 2009/10. The rate of unauthorised absence has changed very little over the last five years.

Term-time holidays remain a major reason for absence and in 2010/11 increased to 9.5 per cent of overall absence, from 9.3 per cent the previous year. Illness continues to be the most common reason for absence in schools, accounting for 59 per cent.

The Government’s Expert Adviser on behaviour, Charlie Taylor, who is carrying out an independent review of attendance in schools, said:

Schools are aware of the consequences of poor attendance on their pupils’ attainment. Some schools go to great lengths to tackle attendance issues and to see the absence rates decreasing is very promising. But as these figures show there is yet more work to be done to reduce the number of pupils who are still persistently absent.

The earlier schools address poor attendance patterns, the less likely it is that they will become a long term issue. The best primary schools realise this and take a rigorous approach to poor attendance from the very start of school life.

He added:

Schools can issue penalty notices to parents whose children persistently miss lessons. But when about 40 per cent of fines are unpaid or withdrawn, it shows the current system is not working.

Ofsted allows for flexibility around the inspection of attendance. The individual circumstances of pupils with good reason to be off school will not affect the final judgment i.e. long term absence on medical grounds. Schools should also not be penalised for the absence of genuinely sick children.

Ofsted will continue to take into account the number of pupils over the ‘persistently absent’ threshold when looking at a school’s performance on attendance.

Local authority breakdown

Local authorities with the most persistent absence

Local Authority Percentage of children who are persistently absent
Nottingham 9.7
Liverpool 9.6
Kingston upon Hull 9.1
Knowsley 9.1
Newcastle upon Tyne 8.8
Middlesborough 8.8
Blackpool 8.7
Bristol 8.4
Sandwell 8.4
Wolverhampton 8.0

Local authorities with the least persistent absence

Local Authority Percentage of children who are persistently absent
City of London 2.2
Rutland 3.8
Isles of Scilly 3.8
Westminster 4.2
Kingston upon Thames 4.3
Wokingham 4.4
Bracknell Forest 4.5
Bexley 4.6
Windsor and Maidenhead 4.6
North Lincolnshire 4.7