Research Report DfE - RR

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Research Report DFE-RR171

A profile of pupil absence in England

Education Standards Analysis and Research Division

The views expressed in this report are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department for Education


Executive Summary Aim •

The aim of this topic paper is to provide a comprehensive view of the latest statistical trends and analysis on absences in the maintained education sector in England.

Headline absence trends •

Since 2006/07, levels of overall absence across all maintained schools have dropped from 6.49% to 6.04%. During this period, the authorised absence rate has dropped from 5.49% to 5.00%; and unauthorised absences have increased from 1.00% to 1.04%. Also over this period, the persistent absentee (PA) 1 rate across all maintained schools dropped from 8.5% to 6.8%.

The majority of absences are caused by a minority of pupils. Over half of the maintained school population miss less than 5% of the school year.

Special schools have the highest levels of overall absence, followed by state-funded secondary and primary schools (rates for academic year 2009/10 were 10.27%, 6.88% and 5.21% respectively).

Chapter 1: Characteristics of pupils absent from school •

Although levels of absence have dropped across all ethnic groups, the largest drops were seen in Irish Traveller and Gypsy Roma pupils – who historically have the highest levels of absences.

Pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) have over twice the odds of being a persistent absentee as similar pupils who are not eligible for FSM.

Pupils with Special Education Needs (SEN) have greater odds of being persistently absent than pupils without SEN. Those at School Action Plus have the highest odds of being persistently absent (almost three times that of pupils without SEN) followed by statemented pupils (2.8 times the odds) and pupils at School Action (almost twice the odds of being persistently absent than pupils without SEN).

Chapter 2: Reasons for absence •

Persistent absentees and other pupils have different reasons for being absent. Compared to other pupils, PA pupils have greater proportions of all absence due to unauthorised other circumstances (26% vs. 6%) and authorised other (9% vs. 8%).

Girls are more likely to have absences due to illness than boys; boys however, are more likely to have absences due to exclusions than girls.

Pakistani, Bangladeshi, African, Indian and pupils of Mixed White and Asian ethnicity report higher proportions of absences due to religious observance compared to all other ethnic groups.


A persistent absentee is defined as a pupil having 46 or more sessions of absence (authorised or unauthorised) during the academic year, around 15% of overall absence.


Chapter 3: Contextual background of absentees •

Persistent absentees are more likely to come from lone parent households or households with no parents, compared to their non-PA peers.

Almost a third of persistent absentees come from households where the principal adult/s are not in any form of current employment – this compares to just over a tenth of non-PAs

Evidence suggests that persistent absentees are more likely to be bullied, excluded from school and be involved in risky behaviours (experiment with drugs, alcohol etc.) than non-PAs.

Chapter 4: Absence and its impact •

There is a clear link between absence and attainment. As levels of pupil absences increase, the proportion of pupils reaching the expected levels of attainment at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4, decrease.

In 2009/10, pupils who have never been classified as persistent absentees over th