Written evidence submitted by the Department for Education

Department for Education: Submission of Evidence for Education Select Committee inquiry into Persistent Absence and Supporting Disadvantaged Pupils (2023)

  1. Attending school is critically important for children’s life chances, including their attainment, wellbeing, safety and wider development. School attendance had improved since 2010, but the pandemic and its aftermath significantly damaged attendance levels. The pandemic caused higher levels of sickness absence, and exacerbated existing problems with persistent absence, with vulnerable children particularly affected. Attendance is now improving, and the Government is committed to returning to pre-pandemic levels and better.  The Government is driving improvement across the school system as well as implementing a comprehensive attendance plan. This aims to restore norms of regular attendance and improve the consistency of support critical to tackling the most complex absence, recognising the greater challenge post-Covid. The Government is also making attendance a key part of wider reforms geared to helping families and vulnerable children.


  1. Covid-19 highlighted the importance of face to face education. All children are entitled to a full-time education suitable to their age, aptitude and any special educational needs they may have.[1] For the vast majority of children, this is fulfilled through registration at school. Their regular attendance at that school is a prerequisite to their success. [2]


  1. The pandemic struck following a period of improving school attendance across England between 2010 and 2019. The rate of half days missed fell during this period from 6.0% to 4.8%, representing 15 million more days in school.[3] More time in school contributed to the improvement in children’s attainment during that period. This was achieved through a range of policy changes. The Government commissioned the Taylor Review (2012), and responded over this period by taking action including: focusing on the primary phase to embed good habits early; publishing attendance data for pupils below compulsory school age; and reducing the persistent absence threshold from 20% to 10% to promote earlier intervention before poor attendance becomes habitual. The Government also tightened the regulations around granting leave of absence from school. Alongside these steps, Ofsted made good attendance practices a key feature of the ‘Behaviours and Attitudes’ judgement of its 2019 inspection framework.


  1. Against this backdrop of overall improvement, Covid was a systemic shock to attendance levels, driving much higher absence over the last two years. This pattern was mirrored in many other countries worldwide. Direct comparisons over time are difficult due to disruption caused by the pandemic, but census data from the Autumn and Spring terms before and during the pandemic show overall absence levels were at 4.5% in 2018/19 compared to 7.4% in 2021/22. This increase was driven by higher illness and broken patterns of attendance.  Comparable census data for the 2022/23 Autumn/Spring period will be available in October 2023, but early signs from the Departments daily data pilot suggest a greater proportion of children are attending school so far this school year.
  2. Persistent absence is defined as the proportion of pupils missing 10% or more of possible sessions per year (or 19 days over a year). It has broadly reflected the same pattern as overall absence, but levels were stubbornly high pre pandemic, with 10.9% of pupils persistently absent in the full 2018/19 academic year.[4] Directly comparable annual data is not available due to disruption in the census data collection during the pandemic. Census data for the Autumn/Spring terms 2021/22 showed persistent absence at 22.3% (compared to 10.5% over the same period in 2018/19) mainly driven by illnessCensus data for the full 2021/22 academic year will be published later in March 2023 and will provide the first direct comparison on annual absence and persistent absence rates since the start of the pandemic.


  1. Detailed data on persistent absence levels, trends and breakdowns by region, demographics and pupil characteristic are set out in the Annex. Persistent absence has increased across all types of school, and peaks in years 10 and 11. Illness has been critical in driving the recent changes. In Autumn/Spring 2021/22 it accounted for 53.9% of sessions lost to persistent absence, up from 40.8% in 2018/19. As a consequence of higher authorised absence, the share of unauthorised absence has fallen, although absolute levels have increased, particularly in secondary. Overall persistent unauthorised absence rose from 3.0% in Autumn 2018/19 to 4.1% in Autumn 2021/22.


  1. As of February 2023, the Department is publishing persistent absence as part of the new daily attendance data trial (see below for further details). In the first publication with persistent absence in scope (23/02/23) across the year to date, 23.4% of pupil enrolments missed 10% or more of their possible sessions. 23.4% in February 2023 represents a fall from 25.1% in Autumn term, and this downward trend is expected to continue as illness pressures begin to abate.


  1. There is also variation by region, and by demographic factors, with a slightly higher proportion of girls persistently absent than boys. The highest rates by ethnicity are for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller of Irish heritage children. There are higher rates of persistent absence for children on free-school meals (35.4%), children with SEND (31.2% for SEN support), and Children in Need (38.4%) than children without these characteristics (2021/22). These rates reflect increases during Covid. Table 1 in the Annex shows that among those groups for which data is available (children on free-school meals and children with SEND) the proportional change has been lower for pupils with these traits than for those without.


  1. At a pupil level, persistent absence is often a symptom of wider problems the pupil or their family are experiencing, from physical and mental illness or special educational needs through to difficulties with transport, housing or home routine. The most recent illness absence rates reflect a higher incidence of certain conditions, particularly respiratory illnesses, but may also include a change in attitudes to risk, with some anecdotal evidence from teachers of more ‘precautionary’ absence and weakened presumption of attendance as the social norm.


  1. In addition, post pandemic, school leaders have reported that pupils feel more anxious about returning to school. This is usually cited as a problem particularly for children in secondary schools. While there is no strong data to support a causal link between mental health and attendance, the NHS reported[5] that prevalence of probable Mental Health disorder in 7-16 year olds is up from 12.1% in 2017 to 18% in 2022, and children with a probable mental health disorder had reported higher absence (12.6% missed more than 15 days of school compared with 3.9% in the NHS survey).


  1. For ‘unauthorised other’ absence, which tends to be the most complex area, evidence submitted to the new guidance consultation highlighted a range of factors. These included pupil disengagement because of falling behind academically (again reports from the sector suggesting this has increased following the pandemic), social and behavioural challenges in school including bullying, and home issues including caring responsibilities. Further factors included engagement in other activities including crime and antisocial behaviour and a small and decreasing number of pupils who did not attend because of concerns following Covid-19.


  1. At a system level, persistent absence reflects an inconsistent response by local services that support families, some of which were affected by the pandemic. Many schools, trusts, and local authorities have invested in improving attendance systems and there are examples of excellent practice, but some schools still do not set and publish clear, high expectations for attendance, backed by consistent policies. Local authority service provision varies significantly from area to area – particularly in terms of the level and type of support offered to families. This means pupils and parents experiences vary across the country.


  1. The Schools White Paper set clear ambitions for 90% of children to leave primary school having achieved the expected standard in Key Stage 2 reading, writing and maths; and that in secondary schools, the national GCSE average grade in both English language and in maths will increase from 4.5 in 2019 to 5, both by 2030. The Schools White Paper highlighted four areas of focus to realise this ambition: ensuring an excellent teacher for every child; high standards of curriculum, behaviour and attendance; targeted support for every child who needs it; and a stronger and fairer school system. To build on the work of the best schools and local authorities and underline attendance as a Government priority, the 2022 Schools White Paper committed to improving attendance rates to pre-pandemic levels and better. There is a correlation between well-run schools and good rates of school attendance, and the wider drive to raise school standards is an important part of increasing overall attendance rates.

What works in tackling absence, including persistent absence

  1. Looking at schools in areas of the country with the highest rates of disadvantaged and vulnerable children, those with the best rates of attendance demonstrated several common features:[6]


  1. Having a school-wide culture of high expectations around attendance, backed by a senior leader responsible for improving attendance, and which ensures that all staff contribute to promoting regular attendance.


  1. Having a clear attendance policy of which all parents and pupils are aware. The policy is applied consistently across the school and is regularly reviewed as trends change.


  1. Rigorously using absence data to benchmark against comparator schools and LA/National averages to focus efforts where data suggests there is scope for improvement, for example low attendance amongst pupils attracting the pupil premium.


  1. Having dedicated attendance and pastoral staff who can build strong relationships with persistent absentees and those at risk of habitual poor attendance to overcome barriers and link them into services.


  1. Having good relationships with local authority attendance services and having a clear process for using attendance legal intervention where necessary.



  1. Looking at the local authorities with higher than average rates of attendance for the levels of disadvantage in their areas, common features of excellence were:[7]


  1. Setting a local authority wide strategy by rigorously tracking data, and prioritising pupil cohorts and schools upon which to focus attention and resource.


  1. Holding regular conversations with schools, using their absence data to identify pupils and cohorts at risk of poor attendance, and targeting action and services to those pupils or groups.


  1. Bringing schools together through regular communication to share good practice between schools and trusts in the area.


  1. Deploying dedicated attendance and early help staff to work intensively with families and provide practical support where needed. This often involves effective multi-agency working with health, youth justice and voluntary and community sector partners to tackle the wider societal barriers to attendance. It is particularly relevant for those children who are in alternative provision schools, who are likely to be more vulnerable and have historically poor attendance.
  2. Making appropriate use of the full range of legal powers including education supervision orders and parenting contracts as well as fixed penalty notices and prosecutions.







The Government’s Attendance Plan


Clearer, stronger expectations


  1. The core of the Attendance Plan is new guidance Working together to improve school attendance. This came into effect on a non-statutory basis in September 2022, seeking to reset expectations around attendance to reflect the greater challenge post-Covid. The guidance sets out strengthened responsibilities for schools, trusts and local authorities to tackle the reasons for absence. It establishes clearer expectations for how all local agencies will work together to provide better, more timely and more targeted whole-family support. The guidance includes a focus on severe absence for the first time, to further concentrate efforts on pupils who miss 50% of possible sessions. The Department will place this guidance on a statutory footing when Parliamentary time allows.


  1. For parents, the guidance means that, regardless of where in the country they live, they can expect clear communication from their child’s school on attendance, punctuality and relevant processes, alongside regular updates on their child’s attendance. Where their child is particularly at risk of becoming persistently absent, they can also expect their school to work with them to remove barriers to attendance, signposting to a multi-agency response to out of school barriers, and voluntary support services. Critically post-Covid, when there is a range of greater pressures on families, the guidance is based on a principle of ‘support first’. Only where supportive approaches have been exhausted does the Department expect schools and local authorities to choose from the range of parental responsibility measures (such as parenting contracts and education supervision orders) to decide which will best support the individual circumstances of the family.


  1. For schools, the guidance sets an expectation that each will have a Senior Attendance Champion and publish a clear attendance policy on their website. The policy is expected to include: robust day-to-day processes for recording, monitoring and following up absence; details of how the school will work with local partners to provide family support; strategies for improving the attendance of pupils with poorer attendance than their peers (including vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils); and the process of using legal intervention in conjunction with their local authority when support has been exhausted. Schools should monitor, analyse and share attendance data regularly to speed up support for individual pupils and focus their efforts at cohort level.


  1. For local authorities, the guidance asks them to make attendance a key focus of all frontline council services as well as ensuring their School Attendance Support Team works with all schools in the area. Local authorities will, for the first time, hold termly Targeting Support Meetings with schools to identify and agree actions for pupils who are persistently or severely absent and work jointly with all local partners to offer better multi-agency support to pupils who need it. In addition, through the expansion of the role of the Virtual School Head, there are specific expectations for improving the attendance of pupils with a social worker.

Daily data

  1. Schools and local authorities need the right data so they can identify children at risk of persistent absence and intervene to tackle it. The Department has set up a data pilot to establish a better, more timely flow of pupil level attendance data across schools, trusts, local authorities and the Department without placing any additional administrative burdens on schools. In under a year, four in five (80%) state-funded schools have signed up, allowing near live collection of operational attendance data directly from schools’ electronic registers. The data is published to local authority level every two weeks and, while not validated to the same level as census data, is driving a better understanding of attendance levels. Most critically, it is made available to schools and trusts to pupil level via an interactive dashboard. This enables analysis of trends in different types of absence by characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, children on free school meals, those with special educational needs and disabilities and, shortly, children with a social worker. It has recently added persistent absence as a new data field. New benchmarking functionality will soon allow schools to compare their attendance position to other schools in their locality and nationally, with signposting to sources of help and support. Early feedback from schools is that the new data is very helpful in giving teachers and governors a much clearer picture of attendance risks so they can tackle emerging issues. The Department has not yet made decisions on future phases of the project or the timetable but believe it could, in time, be transformational. The intention is for the data pilot to be made mandatory in due course and, longer-term, for this new method of data sharing to replace existing statutory attendance data returns, including eventually the school census.

Advisers and best practice support

  1. To help embed the new attendance expectations, the Department has commissioned a team of 10 expert Attendance Advisers to work closely with every local authority in England over the next two years to help support the transition, with the amount of support weighted towards those with the highest levels of absence. The advisers are also working with some multi-academy trusts with higher levels of persistent absence over the same timeframe to review their current practice and develop plans to improve the support for persistently absent pupils. For local authorities, the support also includes a programme of intensive training sessions between groups of local authorities to share effective practice across areas.  These have been attended by 121 of the 153 relevant English local authorities. DfE have also developed a series of effective practice webinars which explain the guidance in detail alongside effective practice examples and have been viewed over 39,000 times so far. The government has worked with the Behavioural Insights Team to develop guidance for schools on how to communicate most effectively with parents.  This guidance draws on evidence about how schools communicate (including using texts and data) can materially affect attendance levels.  


  1. Attendance is closely linked to behaviour. The Department’s £10m Behaviour Hub programme enables schools with exemplary behaviour cultures to work closely with schools that want and a taskforce of advisers, led by the Departments lead behaviour adviser, Tom Bennett.  The programme provides advice to improve attendance to every school supported through the programme. The Department has also worked with the Northern Education Trust to establish and launch their school attendance hub.  This is the first of a network of schools in different circumstances providing each other with peer supportThe hub is based at the North Shore Academy in Stockton which has transformed its own attendance position from one of significant challenge to one of excellence.  The hub brings together a network of nearly 60 school leaders in similar contexts to provide mutual advice, share effective practice and resources, and overcome common problems. This includes, for example, ensuring schools have well-established approaches, such as setting clear expectations of parents and pupils, meeting children at the gate, and following up unexplained absences on the first day. Participant schools within the hub are reporting improvements to their systems and processes. The Department is exploring with a number of MAT leaders how they can expand this model of support to help many more schools benefit in the future.

Individual support for children and families

  1. The Government’s Supporting Families Programme has highlighted the importance of single, trusted lead professionals in tackling complex social problems, and this is particularly relevant to attendance. Engagement with education remains a key feature of this programme, with funding totalling £695 million by 2025, and performance measures including attendance. To help strengthen the evidence base on interventions specifically to reduce the most challenging kinds of absence, the Department has also launched a £2.3 million pilot of attendance mentoring. This will support more than 1,650 pupils over the next three years through intensive one-to-one help, starting in the Middlesbrough Priority Education Investment Area (PEIA) and rolled out to more PEIAS in later years. The Department will share the lessons from this pilot to support schools, trusts, and local authorities to address persistent and severe absence more effectively.


System leadership and multi-agency working

  1. As a problem with complex causes, addressing persistent and severe absence needs effective collaboration between education, health, policing and the community and voluntary sector. To drive action and continue to raise the profile of improving attendance across agencies and partners post-Covid, the Government has brought together an Attendance Action Alliance (AAA) at national level, which was reconvened in January. This group includes national leaders from education, children’s social care, policing and allied services who have pledged to take steps to raise attendance and reduce persistent absence. Pledges include dissemination of effective practice on attendance for children in need driven by Isabelle Trowler, the Chief Social Worker, commitments to securing effective multi-agency approaches from local authorities, and a pledge from Dame Clare Gerada and the Royal College of GPs to ensure GPs and teachers work together to improve attendance.

New guidance on mental health and wellbeing

  1. Linked to the AAA’s work, the Department has published as part of Children’s Mental Health Week specific new guidance where mental health and wellbeing issues are affecting a child’s attendance. This seeks to address a reported increase in child anxiety post pandemic and to help schools alleviate specific barriers to attendance by working with families to respond quickly where issues emerge, including in instances where children are experiencing normal but difficult emotions such as anxiety or grief. It sits alongside Dame Clare Gerada’s work to underline the message to GP’s, teachers, parents and students that attendance normally benefits mental health, and absence can worsen (rather than remedy) feelings of anxiety. (Other support for mental health is considered in paragraph 25b below).

Legal intervention

  1. In most complex cases, local agencies working together is the right approach to tackle attendance problems. There are also some cases where support is not appropriate, such as a term time holiday without permission, or where an intervention hasn’t worked. In these circumstances, there is a role for the use of legal intervention to secure a pupil’s regular attendance. Legal intervention is currently used inconsistently across the country, with 22 local authorities accounting for over 50% of all fixed penalty notices issued in 2020-21. In Spring 2022, the Government consulted on replacing existing area-by-area codes of conduct with a single national framework.  This proposal was intended to improve consistency in use between local authorities. The Government will respond to the consultation in due course.

Making attendance a priority across work with families

  1. Persistent absence has a number of causes, many of which have become more challenging post Covid, so the Government’s attendance plan is only part of the response. The Government is also prioritising improving attendance with a range of policies and programmes that work with vulnerable children and families and tackle some of the underlying drivers:


  1. The Government continues to drive recovery from the disruption of Covid through a multi-year programme and has made available almost £5bn in additional funding which should also help to improve attendance. This funding includes up to £1.5bn on tutoring and nearly £2bn of direct funding to schools so they can deliver evidence-based interventions based on pupil needs, both of which are directly relevant where for example persistent absence is linked to a pupil falling behind. These programmes have been designed to allow schools to support those pupils particularly in need, including the most disadvantaged. The recovery premium can and has been used to address attendance and behaviour, deliver social and emotional support, and provide enrichment elements that support physical and mental health and wellbeing – as well as academic support. Since the National Tutoring Programme began in November 2020, nearly 3 million courses have been started. This includes almost 400,000 courses between 1 September and 6 October 2022 and schools and pupils are continuing to benefit from the support offered through the programme.


  1. The Department is committing £82 million to extend family hubs to another 75 areas. This is being invested alongside help for families to overcome specific barriers which overlap with school attendance, including £79 million into additional mental health support teams in schools, meaning more than 2.4m children and young people now have access to MHSTs, with coverage extending to 35% of pupils in England by 2023. The Government is investing an extra £2.3 billion by 2023-24 through the NHS long term plan to support an additional 345,000 pupils with their mental health. Alongside this, the Department is offering a grant to all state schools and colleges in England to train a senior mental health lead who can put in place an effective approach to mental health and wellbeing in their school or college. More than 10,000 schools and colleges have received training grants so far, and a further £10 million in grants has also been confirmed for up to two thirds of schools and colleges by March 2023. In May 2021, we invested £7m into our Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme, to build on the success of our £8m Wellbeing for Education Return programme. Over 14,000 state-funded schools and colleges in England benefitted from the two programmes which provided free expert training, support and resources for staff dealing with children and young people experiencing additional pressures from Covid-19 – including anxiety and stress.


  1. In 10 serious violence hotspots, including Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield, the Department is also using evidence-based interventions such as mentoring to help improve young people’s attendance and behaviour in school, reducing the likelihood of involvement in violence as part of the work of Support, Attend, Fulfil, Exceed (SAFE) taskforces. Backed by £30 million, the taskforces bring together head teachers and local services to further test these approaches at the same time as supporting vulnerable children. For other vulnerable pupils, the Alternative Provision Specialist Taskforce (APST) programme embeds teams of specialists, such as mental health workers, youth workers, speech and language therapists, family support workers, youth justice workers and post-16 transition workers, in 22 AP schools that are in serious violence hotspots. This project also aims to improve attendance, behaviour and NEET rates and reduce serious violence and has supported over 2,000 young people so far.


  1. The range of factors that affect pupil absence mean reform of the Children Social Care, SEND and AP systems will be important to help support pupils to engage in education.  On 2 February, the Government published Stable Homes, Built on Love an implementation strategy and consultation, backed by £200m of additional investment. The implementation strategy seeks to rebalance children’s social care away from costly crisis intervention and towards more meaningful and effective help for families. Its reforms to the family help system, implementing pathfinders for a new model of intensive multidisciplinary support in up to 12 areas, are closely aligned with the approach for persistently and severely absent children set out in the new attendance guidance. Its missions for children in care and care leavers also include a commitment to strengthen education, employment and training through better use of Virtual School Heads and Pupil Premium Plus funding. The new Children’s Social Care Dashboard will include measures on school attendance of Children in Need, ensuring that helping children to attend school is a key part of the Children’s Social Care National Framework.


  1. Better support for children and young people with SEND is at the heart of the SEND and AP Improvement Plan that was published on 2 March 2023.  This set out the new national plan to level up opportunities, with a strong focus on ending the postcode lottery that leaves too many with worse outcomes than their peers. This single, national SEND and AP system introduces new standards in the quality of support given to children across education, health and care.  It also sets out plans to develop a bespoke performance framework for AP. This will set robust standards focused on progress and re-integration into mainstream, including a focus on improved attendance which will help support those struggling to school since the pandemic.  Our vision for alternative provision is that in future, all AP will work in partnership with mainstream schools to provide high-quality targeted help and interventions to improve behaviour and attendance.  Resources will be targeted and distributed more effectively so that needs can be addressed earlier. This will mean children and young people whose behaviour or medical needs present a barrier to learning are supported to thrive. 


  1. To tackle the disparities between areas and regions of the country, improved attendance is a priority for the Department’s 55 Education Investment Areas (EIAs) (of which 24 are designated as a Priority EIAs (PIEAs or Priority Areas).  These 24 Priority Areas will receive additional funding and support to help them reach the 2030 goals on Maths and English set out in the Schools White Paper. Attendance has been identified as a key issue to address in most of the Priority Areas and the Department is working closely with schools, trusts, local authorities and other partners to address this, including prioritising the work of Attendance Advisors and encouraging schools in these areas to join attendance hubs.

The effect of breakfast clubs, free school meals, holiday activities and after school activities on attendance

Attendance and free school meals

  1. Government has limited direct evidence of the specific effect of free school meals (FSM) on pupils’ attendance in school. There is anecdotal evidence that the availability of a free meal at lunchtime has a positive attendance effect, especially where it is targeted at those on the lowest incomes. While published data undoubtedly shows significantly higher absence and persistent absence amongst FSM pupils, the Government does not causally associate FSM with absence.  Rather, some of the factors which may be more prevalent among FSM pupils may also contribute directly to higher degrees of absence. These might typically include housing, transport and family health/ caring responsibilities. Pupils with special educational needs in state funded schools are more likely to be in receipt of FSM. As of January 2022, 39.7% of pupils with an EHC plan and 36.4% of pupils with SEN support are eligible for FSM.  This compares to 22.5% of all pupils in schools.[8] Hence there may be an association between higher than average absence rates in both FSM and SEN pupils. 


  1. 1.9 million pupils are eligible for and claiming benefits-related free school meals, 22.5% of all pupils. This is an increase of nearly 160,000 pupils since January 2021, when 1.7 million (20.8%) of pupils were eligible. In addition, around 1.25 million more infants enjoy a free, healthy and nutritious meal at lunchtime following the introduction of universal infant free school meals in 2014. In addition, the Department is investing up to £30 million to continue our national school breakfast programme until the end of the 2024 summer term, supporting up to 2,500 schools. The supplier, Family Action, has estimated that around 270,000 children are having a breakfast through the programme on an average school day, based on data from June 2022.[9]  The Education Endowment Fund conducted an evaluation of an earlier programme the Department ran through Magic Breakfast, which supported schools to run a free of charge, universal breakfast club before school. This evaluation found that participating schools saw an improvement in pupil attendance.[10]  


Holiday activities and food programme

  1. The Government’s holiday activities and food (HAF) programme started as a pilot in 2018. It was created in response to the pressures that low income families can face over the school holidays, with some children being less likely to take part in organised out-of-school activities, and more likely to experience social isolation and poor nutrition and physical health. Evidence suggests that attending holiday clubs can have a positive effect on children’s health, wellbeing and opportunities for education. In light of the known barriers to attendance, this might help support pupils to engage in education and regular attendance in school.


  1. Based on reporting from local authorities, over 685,000 children and young people attended the holiday activities and food programme in the 2022 summer holidays. Of these participating children, over 580,000 were funded directly by the HAF programme and over 475,000 were receiving benefits-related free school meals. Local Authorities also reported that over 8,000 clubs, events or organised activities operated across the country over the summer.


  1. In addition to eating more healthily and increasing levels of physical activity, our 2021 HAF programme evaluation found that four out of every five children attending HAF reported that the holiday club made them feel safe (82%), helped them be more active (81%), helped them make new friends (81%), and experience new things (81%). Just over three-quarters (77%) also felt they were more confident because of attending the holiday club, and 71% reported that they learned something new.[11]


  1. 17 of the 22 Alternative Provision schools involved in the Alternative Provision Specialist Taskforces programme ran holiday activity programmes for their students during summer 2022. The holiday programmes provided students with opportunities for new experiences, a safe space to be over the holidays, a chance to build social and formal relationships and learn new skills. Student feedback was very positive, for example one participant said, “I’ve had the best summer, it’s the only holidays that I’ve not slept in all day and gone [to] parties every night.”


  1. The Government has confirmed over £200 million a year in funding for local authorities to fund the HAF programme, enabling every local authority across England to continue to provide for their communities.

Annex - Further data on persistent absence

  1. Persistent absence fell in the first half of the 2010s but levels remained high in the middle part of the decade.  In the five years prior to the pandemic, an average of 10.9% of pupils were persistently absent each year (Figure 1).[12] Those persistently absent pupils accounted for 39% of all half day sessions missed, rising to more than 50% of all half day sessions missed for unauthorised reasons. As with absence overall, persistent absence levels increased during the pandemic, with the percentage of persistently absent pupils increasing to 23.5% in Autumn/Spring 2021/22. (Figure 1-2)[13]


  1. This evidence paper generally cites census data, which is available to 2021/22, as the authoritative source for trends on absence. There is more recent data available from the daily data trial relating to persistent absence, which is considered below, on the basis that it is not yet fully validated for comparability, and not all breakdowns are available at the time of writing. In Autumn term 2022, persistent absence (equivalent to 7 days measured over a single term) was 25.1%.  This represented an increase year on year, although it was an improvement from the last census data in Spring 2022. This also occurred at the same time as a much higher proportion of children were attending school. In 2022/23 academic year to date, rather than Autumn term only, persistent absence levels now appear to be falling and are below Autumn 2021 levels.
  2. The main cause of the overall increase in persistent absence since the start of the pandemic has been higher levels of authorised absence, particularly illness (Figure 3). Authorised absence rose from 7.7% in Autumn term 2019/20 to 17.5% in Autumn 2021/22. There was also a small increase in the proportion of pupils missing 10% of sessions or more due to unauthorised absence (from 3.0% in Autumn 2018/19 to 4.1% in Autumn 2021/22), with much of this absence being for no agreed reason. (Figure 4)


  1. Since 2022, the Government has expected schools and local authorities to identify and provide additional support to severely absent pupils (those who miss 50% or more of possible sessions). Prior to the pandemic, 0.7% of pupils would have fallen into this category (Autumn Term 2018/19). The percentage of severe absentees increased to 1.4% in Autumn Term 2021/22 (Figure 5), driven by a mix of authorised and unauthorised absence.[14]


Variations in persistent absence


  1. Looking at persistent absence across school types, Alternative Provision has the highest rate in the education system. This reflects the fact that children attending Alternative Provision are often at risk of or already disengaged from education when entering AP. High absence is likely to be one of the factors that mean they are in AP provision.[15]  Special schools have the next highest rates, 39.4% in Autumn 2021/22, followed by secondary at 27.7%, and then primary at 19.5% (Figure 2). In special schools, high absence levels partly reflect higher incidence of illness and greater time off for treatment appointments than mainstream schools. These patterns continued in the Autumn 2022 (data from the daily data trial) although at slightly higher levels.


  1. The largest increase in persistent absence by school type has been in secondary schools (from 12.7% in Autumn 2018 to 27.7% in Autumn 2021) (Figure 2).[16] As with persistent absence trends overall, authorised persistent absence accounts for most of this increase, increasing from 7.3% in 2018/19 to 20.8% in 2021/22 for secondary (Figure 3). There has also been an increase in persistent unauthorised absence in secondary from 3.8% in 2018/19 to 5.6% in 2021/22 (Figure 4).


  1. The age profile of persistent absence is shown in Figure 7, with a long-established pattern of rates increasing by school year, with peaks in Years 10 and 11. The rate of increase in persistent absence over the Covid period appears broadly similar across ages, rising to 30% in Years 10 and 11 in Autumn and Spring 2021/22.  A slightly higher proportion of girls are persistently absent (22.6%), compared to boys (22.1%).[17]
  2. Figure 8 shows rates of persistent absence by ethnicity: the lowest rates of persistent absence are seen in pupils of Chinese (7.5%) and Black African heritage (9.8%) in Autumn and Spring 2021/22. The highest rates are seen in pupils of Gypsy Roma (58.7%) and Traveller of Irish heritage (66.5%).[18] Pupils with English as an additional language are less likely to be persistently absent (18.7%) than their peers (23.2%).


  1. Vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils have long been more likely to be persistently absent than their peers. The table below sets out how that has changed since before the Covid pandemic. Persistent absence is higher but has increased by a smaller proportion for pupils with SEN and who are eligible for FSM than it has for pupils without those characteristics. Data from 2020/21 suggests that the relative increase among children in need or looked after has been greater but it is not yet possible to reach a conclusion on the impact of the Covid pandemic on these cohorts until data from 2021/22 is available.[19] High persistent absence levels for these in 2021/22 are likely affected by schools remaining open for these cohorts during spring, where they were closed for other children.

Table 1 Persistent absence for pupils with SEN, eligible for free school meals (FSM), children in need, and looked after children[20]



2018/19 persistent absence

2021/22 persistent absence

Absolute change between persistent absence between 2018/19 to 2021/22

% change in persistent absence between 2018/19 and 2021/22[21]


Statement or EHCP



12.3 percentage points (pp)


SEN support



14 pp


No identified SEN



11.2 pp



FSM eligible



13.8 pp


FSM Not eligible



9.8 pp


CIN and CLA[22]

CIN at any point


38.4% *

9.4 pp


CLA at any point


32.3% *

15.4 pp


All pupils


12.3% *

1.1 pp


* Characteristic data for CIN and CLA is 2020/21. Note that during Spring term of this year there were restrictions on school attendance. Because vulnerable children were able to attend during this period, their absence rates may appear elevated relative to other pupils.


Variation between areas and between schools


  1. The latest census data shows that persistent absence remains high across the country, but varies by region (24.7% in the South-West, 18.7% in Inner London). The same is true at local authority level (30.6% in Torbay, 16.2% in Lewisham)[23]. The same pattern of regional variation in persistent absence applies for pupils eligible for free school meals. A area breakdown is shown in the attached map (Figure 9). More recent regional data on persistent absence will shortly be published from the daily data project.


  1. The census data also shows that rates of persistent absence also vary significantly from school to school. 25% of primary schools had a rate of persistent absence of 13% or lower, whilst another 25% had a rate of higher than 25%. 32% of secondary schools had a quarter or more of their pupils persistently absent compared to 25% who had less than a fifth of pupils persistently absent.[24]


The picture from daily attendance data


  1. The daily attendance data provides an important new source of evidence for understanding trends, but is based on operational data from schools in near real-time. The Department is still assessing its comparability to school census data, which is subject to additional validation. The pandemic disrupted the annual school census collections in 2020 and 2021, and there has not yet been a full year enabling comprehensive comparison. In addition, persistent and severe absence are measures that are only valid over an extended period on the basis that, measured over brief periods, small amounts of absence will equate to more than 10% of the total time. For these reasons caution is needed in making direct comparisons.


  1. With these caveats, and as noted above, initial data for the Autumn term 2022 showed persistent absence for all schools (equivalent to missing 7 days over the term) at 25.1%. This compares to 10.9% for Autumn in the last full year of census data before the pandemic in 2018-19, and 23.5% in Autumn 2021.[25] (Figure 1)


  1. Higher persistent absence in Autumn 2022, occurred alongside a sharp fall in pupils persistently not attending. This reflects that in Autumn 2020 and Autumn 2021 pupils could be recorded as unable to attend for reasons related to Covid such as isolating. Including these sessions, so taking account of all students not physically in school, there has been a drop in pupils not attending 10% or more sessions overall from 44.6% in 2020 to 32.3% in Autumn 2021 to 25.1% in Autumn 2022. 


  1. In addition, high persistent absence rates in Autumn 2022 were driven by high illness, particularly at the end of Autumn term from the ‘twindemic’, which meant that an estimated 13% of pupils were persistently absent solely due to illness (compared to just 5% in Autumn term 2019). Of the total number of sessions missed by persistent absentees, illness was the only category that increased over the time period (with 8.7% of pupils missing 10% of sessions or more due to illness in Autumn 2019 compared to 10.9% in Autumn 2022), whilst all other reasons remained stable.[26]


  1. Prevalence of illness is always higher in autumn term but December 2022 saw high levels of illness in children and young people including flu, scarlet fever, group A streptococcus and COVID-19 that will have contributed to high levels of absence. In previous years there has been more seasonal spread of these infections, for example group A streptococcus usually peaks in March.
  2. More recently we have seen reductions in the incidence of illness infection[27].  Census data for Spring term 2023 will not be available until October, but the latest data from the daily data pilot shows that persistent absence was 23.4% on 23 February 2023. Persistent absence on a year-to-date basis is therefore now below Autumn 21 levels and falling this term compared with Autumn 22, where it was 25.1%.


  1. Census data for the full 2021/22 academic year will be published in later in March 2023 and will provide the first direct comparison on annual absence, persistent and severe absence rates since the start of the pandemic.

Reasons for Persistent Absence

  1. The reasons pupils become persistently absent are often complex and depend on the specific circumstances of a pupil and their family. Patterns of good attendance are habitual and rely on setting and maintaining clear expectations, routines and processes.  This is driven by parents and schools. Many persistent absentees miss school for a combination of reasons across a school year. (Figure 10 and 11)


  1. The most common single reason for persistent absence is illness (both mental and physical), either through a combination of multiple short-term periods of illness absence or a longer period of absence. Illness related absence accounts for 53% of sessions missed by persistent absentees across the Autumn and Spring terms 2021/22 (Figure 11) up from 40.8% in academic year 2018/19 (Figure 10). 49% of persistent absentees missed more than 10% of their possible sessions because of illness.[28] A small number of persistent absentees (2%) miss more than 10% of sessions because of holidays (either authorised or unauthorised).[29]


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  1. 20% of persistent absentees miss more than 10% of possible sessions because of ‘unauthorised other’ reasons.[30] Whilst school census data cannot provide national detail on reasons for this, evidence to the public consultation and the Department’s sector engagement suggests this includes:


    1. Pupils who disengage from school because they fall behind academically, have low confidence in their academic abilities or because they and/or their families do not see the value of being in school.
    2. Pupils who have social and behavioural challenges in school, including bullying.
    3. Pupils who struggle to attend because of issues at home. This includes those with caring responsibilities, insecure housing and lack of family routine.
    4. Pupils engaged in other activities including employment, crime and anti-social behaviour and gang membership.
    5. A small and decreasing number of pupils who have not fully returned to school because of concerns following Covid-19. These include a small number of families who have not returned their children to school because they were classed as clinically vulnerable during the pandemic.
  1. It is too soon to provide rigorous data on how the pandemic has affected the reasons for persistent absence, but feedback received from schools and local authorities suggests the past two years have seen the existing drivers of absence exacerbated.  The improved flow of daily data this academic year has also highlighted an association between rates of recorded levels of illness absence and unauthorised ‘other’ absence, which warrants further investigation. 


  1. The increase in persistent absence from school since the start of Covid is of course a phenomenon in very many countries worldwide. For example, data for New York City shows an increase in chronic absence (missing 10% or more days of the school year), which rose from 26.5% in 2018-2019 to 40.2% in 2021-22, with higher risk for students with disabilities and those in temporary housing.[31] The state of California has also seen chronic absenteeism up from 12.1% in 18-19 to 30% in 21-22.[32]


Charts and Tables


Figure 1 Overall persistent absence by phase

Figure 2 Termly persistent absence by school type

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Figure 3 Authorised persistent absence by school type




Figure 4 Unauthorised persistent absence by school type









Figure 5 Overall severe absence by school type


Figure 6 Persistent absence in Alternative Provision



Figure 7 Persistent absence by secondary year group












Figure 8 Persistent absence by ethnicity



Figure 9 Geographical variation in persistent absence




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Figure 10 Persistent absence by reason 2018/19

Figure 11 Persistent absence by reason 2021/22