Post-pandemic pupil absences have remained stubbornly high
- Having been stable for many years, pupil absence shot up during the 2021-2022 academic year by over 60% in secondary schools and more than 70% in primary schools to reach a total of nearly 190 million missed school sessions, up from about 110 million in previous years. Initial signs are that these historically high levels of absence have also been maintained into the current school year.
- This has primarily been due to increases in authorised illness absences and unauthorised absences for unknown reasons, though authorised study leave and exclusions also rose, at least among secondary schools.
- The increase in absences due to illness happened in every part of England and across all types of school, but tended to be lower in London and at schools with greater proportions of poor and ethnic-minority pupils, especially among secondary schools. They were also lower at schools with better Ofsted ratings.
- At the same time, cases of 'persistent' and 'severe' absenteeism rose, with the former increasing roughly twofold among all schools to nearly a quarter of pupils and the latter doubling among secondary schools to just under 3% (corresponding to almost 90,000 pupils), though it declined among primary schools.
- These rises in absenteeism were also seen in every region and type of school, but once again schools in London and those with larger ethnic-minority populations or better Ofsted ratings tended to show smaller increases. In contrast to the trends seen for absences due to illness, persistent absenteeism increased by more in poorer schools and local areas.
- How long these effects will persist remains to be seen, but it is already clear that some of them are exacerbating historial disparities such as those between schools in London and the rest of England, or between schools with different Ofsted ratings. Policies and interventions intended to address absenteeism and its consequences need to take this into account.
Figure 1: Pupil absence at mainstream state primary and secondary schools in England
Figure 2: Weekly pupil absence at mainstream state primary and secondary schools in England (2022-2023)
Figure 3: Pupil absence at mainstream state primary and secondary schools in England
Figure 4: Weekly pupil absence at mainstream state primary and secondary schools in England (2022-2023)
(Use the menus to switch between different phases ad school groupings. Click on the figure legend to turn individual years on or off. Hover over the graph to see corresponding values.)
Figure 5: Authorised illness absences by school type
Figure 6: Persistent pupil absenteeism by school type