PA0159

Written evidence submitted by the National Foundation for Educational Research

1. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is the leading independent provider of education research and insights in the UK.

2. NFER welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee’s Inquiry into Persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils. In doing so, NFER’s contribution to this inquiry brings its own research as well as wider studies on pupil disadvantage and school attendance.

3. As well as understanding the factors underlying persistent and severe absence from school for disadvantaged pupils, understanding its consequences is equally important when considering the effectiveness of proposed government reforms and the efficacy of different interventions.  The focus for our evidence is on the impact on the attainment levels of disadvantaged pupils – both individually as well as within a year group.

4. Being absent from school or moving schools appears to have a more adverse effect on disadvantaged pupils outcomes, than the outcomes of their more affluent counterparts.

5. There are many diverse reasons behind pupil absence, such as illness, low self-esteem, and caring duties[1]Addressing absence is therefore not a straightforward or easy affair.

6. Pupil movement is a complicated area and the reasons behind moving schools are often linked to the personal family circumstances of the pupil. 

7. NFER’s research[2] has shown that on average, the association between being absent from school and KS4 outcomes is worse for disadvantaged pupils than their more affluent peers. The difference is small but statistically significant. For example, if a disadvantaged pupil missed six weeks of school at Key Stage 4 (KS4), their Progress 8 score (measure of how much progress a pupil has made between KS2 and KS4, compared to other pupils with similar KS2 scores) would be predicted to be an additional 0.05 lower than a more affluent pupil with the same absence rate.

8. NFER research also showed that on average, the association between moving schools during KS4 is worse for disadvantaged pupils compared to a more affluent peer. The difference is statistically significant. For example, a disadvantaged pupil’s Attainment 8 score (the total points scored by a pupil across eight subjects at the end of KS4) would be predicted to be, on average, an additional 1.2 points lower than a similar but more affluent peer who had moved schools.

9. NFER research also identified that absence and pupil mobility within a year group is also detrimental to the KS4 outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. The better the group attendance and the more stable the year group, the better the predicted outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. This is the case even after controlling for pupil background factors.

10. In summary, the main findings of NFERs research were:
For the 2015/16 cohort, 30 per cent of the gap in Attainment 8 scores between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers, is associated with the underlying group differences in rates of secondary absence, exclusion and pupil transfers, along with differences in prior attainment.

11. For the 2015/16 cohort, 55 per cent of the gap in Progress 8 scores between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers is associated with the underlying group differences in absence, exclusion and pupil transfer rates.
Improving these underlying factors for disadvantaged pupils should therefore substantially boost outcomes for the group.

12. This being the case, supporting secondary schools to reduce absence and support within-secondary school transfers should all be key areas of policy focus.  This should be focused on strategies and interventions to not only reduce the rates of persistent absence but also to boost outcomes of disadvantaged pupils and reduce group gaps in progress and attainment.

13. By improving attendance and stability of year groups, we can further support the progress and attainment of disadvantaged pupils.  In turn, we can facilitate social mobility for these young people by reducing the attainment gap, and in the long term, potentially boost economic growth.

14. Most importantly, it is essential to acknowledge that disadvantaged pupils are not a homogenous group. The complexity of their backgrounds needs to be considered when designing policy. Our research[3] suggests that providing targeted support for those pupils that require it, is likely to be more effective in improving pupils’ outcomes than relying solely on attendance interventions targeted at all pupils.
This is because previous research shows us that to improve these areas we need to identify and address the underlying root causes behind a pupil’s actions, which are often specific to the individual. What poverty is associated with – e.g., lower attendance - and how to remove those barriers – e.g., bullying, mental health concerns - should be focused on. This is essential to boost outcomes for individual pupils and the disadvantaged group overall.

February 2023


[1] Malcolm, H., Wilson V., Davidson, J. and Kirk S. (2003). Absence from School: A Study of its Causes and Effects in Seven LEAs, (Research Report RR424). London: Department for Education and Skills [online]. Available: http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/8655/1/RR424.pdf

[2] Claymore, Z. (2019).  Being Present:  the power of attendance and stability for disadvantaged pupils. Available: https://www.nfer.ac.uk/being-present-the-power-of-attendance-and-stability-for-disadvantaged-pupils/

[3] Macleod, S., Sharp, C., Bernardinelli, D., Skipp, A. and Higgins, S. (2015). Supporting the Attainment of Disadvantaged Pupils: Articulating Success and Good Practice. London: DfE [online]. Available: https://www.nfer.ac.uk/supporting-the-attainment-of-disadvantaged-pupils-articulating-success-and-good-practice