Brexit and attendance


You might be tired of hearing about it, but Brexit will have implications for
attendance too. In this article, John Viner outlines what the impact might be if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.


  • It is likely that there will be a significant impact on schools in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
  • Schools should make plans around a number of areas, including absence, late collection and closure.
  • Travel arrangements are likely to be particularly disrupted and schools should prepare.

The extension to Article 50 did not limit the potential for disruption. Over the past months, it has been almost impossible to predict the outcome of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Now we are facing the very real possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

In those areas likely to be most seriously affected by the disruption, local authorities are planning how to mitigate the local risks. From Pembrokeshire to Essex, from Northumberland to Kent, council emergency planners, often referred to as ‘Resilience Forums’ are setting out the steps they will take in response to any number of different scenarios.

“ Pupil absence should be treated in the same way as in any other emergency ”

Schools that are located in areas where transport links exist, especially haulage links, are likely to be particularly affected. Schools should be aware that there may well be an impact on pupils’ attendance and well-being. Local authorities in those areas are already planning for various consequences. The code name for the Civil Contingencies Secretariat’s plans is Operation Yellowhammer.  

The leaked Yellowhammer document, revealed in February, noted that the result of a no-deal Brexit would be that:

 ‘…the capabilities of responders at all levels decrease or become overwhelmed…Critically, it has to be understood that…there will be issues of unanticipated impacts that arise, or impacts which had not been fully understood.’

Yellowhammer document

If Operation Yellowhammer should have to be implemented in the event of a no-deal exit from the EU, the impact on schools is going to be significant.

Areas to consider

For schools and pupils, consideration needs to be given to:

  • absence management
  • late collection arrangements
  • examinations
  • home-to-school transport
  • closure management
  • off-site activities
  • liaison with other agencies.

This is not an exhaustive list but probably identifies the top priorities.

Absence management

It is likely that there will be disruption to travel, particularly in areas such as Kent, with the proximity of the ports of Dover and Ramsgate. There may well be a subsequent impact on parents bringing their children to school. In many ways, this will feel like an extended severe weather closure and pupil absence should be treated in the same way as in any other emergency. 

In such times, schools may code absent pupils as Code Y: Unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances. Regulations state that this code can be used where a pupil is unable to attend because:

  • the school site, or part of it, is closed due to an unavoidable cause
  • the transport provided by the school or a local authority is not available and where the pupil’s home is not within walking distance
  • a local or national emergency has resulted in widespread disruption to travel which has prevented the pupil from attending school.

The DfE has told local authorities that pupils coded ‘Y’ for non-attendance will not be counted in the school’s attendance figures.

Late collection

It is, of course, possible that several pupils will be late to school where transport is dislocated and a school will also want to review its arrangements for their late collection. It is important that risk assessments have been carried out for vulnerable pupils and that, for all pupils, suitable arrangements are made for their care and supervision.

Early review of this should cover what alternatives parents are able to make to their normal collection arrangements. There should be clear, accessible records of this to prevent last-minute worries.


It is possible that where staff travel a distance, schools could have an issue with late staff arrival or even absence. In the short-term, this may affect the availability of teachers to cover specific subjects. In the longer term, it is possible that disruption to travel creates problems with examinations.

At the time of writing, the DfE has not given any specific guidance on this but headteachers should be exploring what arrangements could be made to mitigate the impact on students with colleagues and examination boards.

Home-to-school transport

Heavy traffic would increase the time it takes for minibuses, buses and coaches to get to their destinations. Schools might have to consider providing food for students and ensuring sufficient staff remain on site to care for stranded children.

Finally, if transport does not arrive, other methods must be considered, including asking parents whether they can transport friends. This will require early planning, bearing in mind safeguarding arrangements and the safety of your pupils.

“ Schools that have pre-planned trips need to think now about the implications of disruption ”

Closure management

It is always the headteacher’s decision to close all or part of a school. However, in the event of a national emergency, they will need to bear in mind that a school closure could potentially result in many, sometimes hundreds, of parents having to leave their place of work to care for their children.

As an added complication, many of these parents could be employed in an occupation that provides a vital service to the community and therefore whose absence could, in itself, have a negative impact on the local situation. The course frequently taken by headteachers is to run what sections of the school they can with the staff they have and so close some classes or years but keep the school as open as possible.

The overriding principle is the safety and welfare of pupils. Once again, this could look like a severe weather closure but early consideration would be sensible and risk assessments should be on the agenda.

Off-site activities

Schools that have pre-planned trips need to think now about the implications of disruption. This will be especially true if planning a trip out of the country. You may not want to consider cancellation but, if the trip does go ahead, the school must be prepared for longer delays than usual. 

At the moment it is hard to know what the exact requirements for travelling to EU countries will be or what we can expect in the way of possible delays on entry and exit. If the trip involves air travel, there is every likelihood of delays at UK airports.

Liaison with external agencies

This is very hard to predict but, in the event of supply-chain delays, pupils requiring medication may be placed in some difficulties and so it is important that schools identify their vulnerable pupils and begin early liaison with the health service.

Social services, court services and mental health agencies are likely to encounter staff absences that could impact on specific cases. For this reason, early discussion of arrangements for multi-agency meetings should be taking place.

This has been a short briefing on key issues. Schools might also want to think about the impact on school meals provision and, for those located near major transport routes, of the risk to air quality. Most local authorities will have arrangements for monitoring air quality but school leaders need to be alert to its deterioration and be prepared to minimise exposure by moving all staff and pupils inside the building, even in hot weather.


Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:

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About Author

John Viner

John Viner has taught in both primary and secondary schools, with a long history of successful primary school leadership. He is now a full-time writer, inspector and adviser.

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