Written evidence submitted by the Nuffield Foundation


The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance educational opportunity and social well-being.

We fund research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also provide opportunities for young people to develop skills and confidence in science and research. Our evidence draws on several research projects funded by the Nuffield Foundation, we hope it provides useful context for the inquiry into persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils.

The factors causing persistent and severe absence among different groups of pupils, in particular:


  1. Research funded by the Nuffield Foundation 2018 - 2020 from Manchester Metropolitan University found that disadvantaged pupils have a higher rate of absence at the end of primary school and this gap increases over the first three years of secondary school compared to other pupils.[1] Individual level factors appear to be the strongest influence on a pupil’s absence rate. The following factors were shown to have a relatively large associations with absence during KS3:



  1. The consistent and relatively large association between White ethnicity and absence reflects research that finds that White ethnicity is associated with poorer attitudes to school.[2]


  1. This research has also found that school and area level factors (beyond the small level neighbourhood deprivation of a pupil’s residence) appear to have little impact on absence. However, the modelling suggested that there may be school level factors that are not measured in the National Pupil Database that may significantly affect absence, for instance, attendance policy and pupil enjoyment of school.


  1. Part of the Nuffield Foundation funded research project, analysis by Major and Eyles has found that during COVID-induced school closures disadvantaged pupils were less likely to access study space, computers, and educational materials.[3]


  1. Whether a child is a looked after child, or a child in need, has also been shown to be a factor in absence rates in schools. Nuffield Foundation funded research has shown that looked after children and children in need experience between 4 and 13 times as many exclusions as other children and that absences were also higher.  The analysis, from the University of Bristol and University of Oxford, suggested that for every 5% of possible school sessions missed due to authorised school absences, young people in care scored over two grades less at GCSE


  1. While not directly linked to reasons for persistent absence, the Nuffield Foundation has also funded research into the result of pupil absence. Pupil absence during KS3 strongly predicts academic progress between the end of primary school and pupils’ GCSEs. Indeed, absence in early secondary school explains a fifth of the gap in pupils’ academic progress between disadvantaged and other pupils. KS3 absence is strongly related to KS4 attainment and contains additional predictive power of KS4 underperformance beyond KS2 attainment and primary school absence.


  1. This can be interpreted in two ways. First, KS3 absence acts as an ‘early warning system’ for KS4 underperformance and is possibly reflecting the changes in motivation, school attachment and home support. This finding concurs with Balfanz, Herzog and Mac Iver (2007) who find that early secondary indicators including attendance in 6th grade (year 7) predict 60% of those that do not graduate from high school in the US.


  1. The second interpretation is that missing school in early secondary has a causal effect on KS4 performance. This cannot be inferred from this particular research project but would be consistent with studies from the USA that have considered this issue. The report therefore recommends that absence in early secondary should be used as an indicator of future underachievement and as a trigger for targeted interventions, such as mentoring and text message prompting.[4]


  1. Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, Manuel Eisner conducted a systematic review examining the impact of interventions to reduce exclusion from school. The review noted that school exclusion is associated with undesirable effects on developmental outcomes. It increases the likelihood of poor academic performance, anti-social behaviour and poor employment prospects. This school sanction disproportionately affects males, ethnic minorities, those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with special educational needs. [5]

How schools and families can be better supported to improve attendance, and how this affects pupils and families who are clinically vulnerable to covid-19.


  1. Professor Manuel Eisner’s review, How effective are school interventions in reducing exclusions?, identified four intervention types that had significant desirable effects on exclusion.[6] These include:



  1. Although these school-based interventions can be seen to cause a small significant drop in exclusion rates during the first six months after the intervention (on average) the effect does not seem to be sustained. The interventions seemed to be more effective at reducing some types of exclusion, such as expulsion and in-school exclusion. There was no impact of the interventions on anti-social behaviour.


  1. In addition, the number of studies supporting each intervention type was low and studies typically come from the USA. So, the results should be considered with some caution and the evidence base needs to be strengthened.  


  1. Ongoing research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is looking at the factors that can mitigate the negative effects of absence. This project is due to conclude in April 2024.[7]


The impact of school breakfast clubs and free school meals on improving attendance for disadvantaged pupils.


  1. Analysis funded by the Nuffield Foundation has demonstrated that a Universal Infant Free School Meals policy improved absence rates for infants registered for free school meals.[8] The effect size was equivalent to missing 1.2 fewer whole days at school over the academic year in total. About 60% of this effect is accounted for by reduced absences for illness or medical appointments. The change in absence rates for infants not registered for free school meals was negligible, suggesting that the introduction of the universal infant free school meal policy reduced inequalities in absences between children from lower and higher income backgrounds.


  1. Another research project funded by the Nuffield Foundation is currently examining the longer-term impacts of universal free school meals programmes on attainment, bodyweight and absence up to age 11, through analysis of earlier and ongoing local authority universal free school meal programmes.[9] This project due to complete May 2023. We can share the findings of this project with the Committee when they are published.


The role of the Holiday Activities and Food programme and other after school and holiday clubs, such as sports, in improving attendance and engagement with school.


  1. Research funded by the Nuffield Foundation has looked at the effects of summer schools on school absence. The findings from this research suggest that summer schools do not have an effect on school absence.[10]

February 2023





[1] Cook, W. and Morris, S. (2020). The academic trajectory of disadvantaged pupils during Key Stage 3. The Nuffield Foundation. Available at:

[2] Strand, S., 2011. The Limits of Social Class in Explaining Ethnic Gaps in Educational Attainment. British Educational Research Journal, 37(2), pp.197–229.

[3] Major, L. and Eyles, A. (2022). Rising school absences: the post pandemic education divide. LSE. Available at:

[4] Cook, W. and Morris, S. (2020). The academic trajectory of disadvantaged pupils during Key Stage 3. The Nuffield Foundation. Available at:

[5] Eisner, M. (2018). How effective are school interventions in reducing exclusions? The Nuffield Foundation. Available at:

[6] Eisner, M. (2018). How effective are school interventions in reducing exclusions? The Nuffield Foundation. Available at:

[7] Dräger, J. and Klein, M. and Sosu, E. (2023). The long-term consequences of early school absences for educational attainment and labour market outcomes. The University of Strathclyde . Available at:

[8] Rabe, B. and Holford, A. (2020). Impact of the universal infant free school meal policy. The Nuffield Foundation. Available at:

[9] Holford, A. and Rabe, B. (2022) The impacts of Universal Free School Meal schemes in England. The Nuffield Foundation. Available at:

[10] Cook, W. and Morris, S. (2020) The academic trajectory of disadvantaged pupils during Key Stage 3. The Nuffield Foundation. Available at: