Facts and figures
“Disincentives, such as fines, known to not work in boosting attendance.”
What is persistent absence?
Now – 10%
2015 – 15%
2010 – 20%
Data already held on children, absence levels and fines
Data already held on children
Schools already know when an individual student is absent. There is no compelling reason for the national government to have this information, even less so in real time.
A huge amount of data is already held on children within scope of the ‘Children Not in School’ registers, both by the Department for Education and other services and departments.
Firstly, to call them Children Not in School is inaccurate as the registers are much broader. Children in Alternative Provision, part-time or flexi-schooled children who are on school registers are to be included, as well as those electively home educated, or children missing education.
Those children who are on a State maintained school roll already – and controversially – have their named level data shared with the Department for Education.
As the Counting Children briefing explains “Children’s named data is sent every term from every state funded educational setting for children age 2-19 to the Department for Education termly, in the School Census. This is one of seven different national census collections. Another is the Children-in-Need (“CIN”) census for which Local Authorities collect detailed, child-level information about all children who are referred to children’s social care services, even if no further action is taken. This includes children looked after (“CLA”), those supported in their families or independently (“CSF/I”), and children who are the subject of a child protection plan. The detailed personal confidential data sent to the Department for Education includes all vulnerable children, including: unborn children; babies; older children; young carers; disabled children; and those who are in secure settings. The highly sensitive personal records include details of adoption, disability, sexual abuse, neglect, and “family dysfunction”. There is another separate named pupil-level collection of personal data from every child in Alternative Provision sent by Local Authorities to the Department for Education on an annual basis 5 and that already includes other AP unregistered providers.”
Every local authority holds registers of children who are home educated and registers for children that could possibly be children missing education. These include every child who has been deregistered from school. Schools – both independent and State maintained – have a legal obligation to inform local authorities of any non-standard transition, detailed in the Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations (England) 2006 and The Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations (Amendments) 2016. Local Authorities choose between fifteen different codes to record the reason for the deregistration, including Elective Home Education.
There is no suggestion that the home educated children who might not be on one of the above databases are not on other ones, either those held by the local authority and by central government and other services.
“The only children we can see may be children who are not known to any services at all by
choice, and a new compulsory duty on parents to register will not solve that. In fact the
suggestion that police will have access to these registers or that they could be used
punitively is more likely to drive parents making the decision to become less likely to choose
to engage with any services including health.”
Levels of absence
With the exception of this year where inclusion of covid figures have pushed up overall and sickness figures absence has remained approximately level since 2011. Overall absence in 2011 was 4.7 as it was in 2021.
Historically absence has been higher. In 1994-95 7.6% total absence and in 2003-04 – 6.7% of school days. The rules around absence were different and the way absence was calculated was different. Since 2013 headteachers have only been allowed to authorise absence in “exceptional circumstances”.
Approximately half of all absence is for illness. Levels of absence due to illness are at about the same level as adult absence from work due to illness. Increases in rates of unauthorised absence are attributed to unauthorised holidays.
2021/22 6.9% absence, 4% absence for illness, includes covid, 1.6% unauthorised absence
2020/21 4.7% absence, 2.1% illness (but 21.3% because of Covid) 1.1% unauthorised absence
2018/19 4.9% absence, 2.5% absence for illness, 1.3% unauthorised absence
2017/18 4.2% absence, 2.6% absence for illness, 1.2% unauthorised absence
2016/17 4.7% absence, 2.6% absence for illness, 1.3% unauthorised absence
Absence for disadvantaged children and those with EHCP
The analysis from Datalab shows the percentage of school missed at different stages by children with an EHCP and also those children classed as ‘disadvantaged’ at various stages of amounts of school missed. It shows clearly that children who have EHCPs and children who are classed as disadvantaged miss school at higher rates.
Approximately 93% of all pupils with an EHCP on roll in state-funded primary schools were in attendance on 12 May, same on 28 Apr. Approximately 93% of all pupils with a social worker on roll in all state-funded primary schools were in attendance on 12 May, up from 92% on 28 Apr. Pupils with a social worker are considered ‘children in need’. the number of pupils eligible for FSM has increased from 1.44 million (17.3% of all pupils) in January 2020 to 1.74 million (20.8% of all pupils) in January 2021. Approximately 94% of all pupils eligible for FSM on roll in state-funded primary schools were in attendance on 12 May, same on 28 Apr. [DfE data, May 27, 2022]
Missing 50% plus school
However there are children who miss substantially more. In 2018/19 0.8% of children, 60,244 children and young people missed 50% or more of school. 17,526 children and young people missed 99%. (Figures show 2020/21 as 1.1% missing 50% or more, a total of 81,652. This was due to ‘special schools’ being open over lockdown but not all parents chosing to send their child.)
Fines and penalties
Penalties have been increasing year on year bar the most recent year which was markedly lower for fines and penalties. The government has written to local authorities to resume their prior levels of ‘parental responsibility measures’.
2020/21 45,809 fines for unauthorised absence (34,933 holidays – 76% of fines), 82 fines for lateness (0.2% of fines), eight parenting orders, 17 education supervision orders (issued by just eight councils) 7,800 parenting contracts were offered (of which three-quarters were accepted by parents) Seven in ten authorities offered no parenting contracts in the last academic year.
2018/19 333,388 fines for unauthorised absence (288,239 holidays), 21,756 parents prosecuted for non-payment, 10,272 parents prosecuted non-attendance, 117 parenting orders, 34 education supervision orders, 18,300 parenting contracts
2017/18 260,900 fines (85% of these were for unauthorised holidays), 19,518 parents prosecuted non-payment, 10,272 parents prosecuted non-attendance
2016/17 149,300 fines (77.5% of these were for unauthorised holidays), 13,324 parents prosecuted non-payment, 10,081 parents prosecuted non-attendance
2012/13 52, 370 fines issued, 7,806 parents prosecuted for non-payment
2009/10 25,657 fines issued
Children Missing Education
Every single local authority in England already holds databases with the names of children they have concerns might be children missing education.
There has been anxiety that Children Missing Education figures will inevitably not include every child who should be in scope. It should be noted however that any annual figures will be higher than the actual number as they will include resolved cases, children who are in receipt of education but are included in numbers due to lack of information about their educational provision, and children who are briefly out of education and then the issue resolved.
For example the 2017 National Children’s Bureau (NCB) Children Missing Education reported that 2015/16 figures for children recorded as missing education was 49,187.
The FOI which underpinned the report asked for children missing at any point over the 365 days of 2015-16 rather than a snapshot in time on any given day.
There is also evidence of poor practice by local authorities around classification of home educating families as ‘children missing education’. 66% of local authorities said that when a home educating family moved out of area that they were at this point classed as ‘children missing education’.
There are a substantial number of children missing education who do so because of gaps in the system.
- 3,500 children waiting for spaces at the setting specified in their ECHP.
- There are groups of children who fall through the gaps in the admissions system for in year admissions. These groups include Looked After Children moved out of area – an experience which happens numerous times – refugee children and homeless children. Admissions which should take 15 days can take months.
100% target rhetoric
Fails to differentiate between authorised and unauthorised
The Children’s Commissioner has set a highly publicised target of 100% attendance for the first day back of school. She said this is “not an arbitrary target” and that the government live tracking of attendance would significantly help.
The justification she gives for this, in her report ‘New Insights into School Absence, Evidence from three multi-academy trusts’ is: “Children who had an unauthorised absence on any day in the first week of
term, experienced an overall unauthorised absence rate of 25% compared
to an overall unauthorised absence rate of two percent for pupils who
didn’t miss any sessions in the first week.”
First, the data is from just three multi-academy trusts. Second, there is no evidence to suggest that a child attending on the first day would make any difference to the ongoing absence. Third, and most fundamental, she fails to differentiate between authorised and unauthorised absence.
A 100% attendance target takes no account of the realities of life, of bereavement, illness, homelessness or other extreme domestic situations.