How to use the latest data

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The attendance data for the full year of 2018/19 has now been released.
Joanne Sierzega takes us through it and guides attendance officers on how to use it to support their own attendance analysis.

Summary

  • Although there are three annual pupil absence publications, it is the full year’s data that is the most important.
  • The 2018/19 statistics provide some overall trends that schools can compare themselves against.
  • For next year’s statistics, no school should be penalised for attendance figures during lockdown.

The Department for Education published the absence data for the full academic year 2018/19 on 26 March 2020. A summary document, the supporting Excel tables and all the published data is available at https://bit.ly/2SobfEB.

This article will explore the key patterns and trends for absence and persistent absence levels and the implications for practice for school attendance officers.

What’s published?

There are two key absence measures: overall absence rate and persistent absence (PA) rates. The overall absence rate is the total number of absent sessions as a percentage of the total possible sessions and the PA rate is the percentage of the enrolments who have 10% absence or higher.

There are three publications of pupil absence data per year. The October release publishes the absence for the previous Autumn and Spring term, the March release publishes the previous full academic year and the May release publishes the previous Autumn term. Only the full year absence data provides a definitive view of pupil absence.

Absence data is published by enrolments, not pupils. This means that the absence data for all pupils who have been enrolled at a school during the academic year are included in the full year absence data, and not just the pupils on roll on a given date. The full year absence data includes six half terms of data, except for Year 11 enrolments whereby the sixth half term is excluded from the published data.

The absence data is published for statutory school-age pupils only. Therefore, data is only published for enrolments who are aged 5 to15 on the first day of the academic year, so in reality, for Years 1 to 11. Reception (4-year olds) absence figures are published separately.

2018/19 headlines

Absence overall has reduced slightly compared to the academic year 2017/18 (see Figure 1). At school type/phase level, the decrease in absence is in primary and special schools, with primary absence having declined to 4% from 4.2% and special to 10.1% from 10.2%. Absence levels in secondary schools and pupil referral units (PRUs) have remained static.

The absence levels of vulnerable groups such as SEN support, EHCP and FSM remain higher than pupils who are not in these vulnerable groups.

Secondary schools

The data shows that:

  • absence levels by gender in secondary schools have remained the same and there is no difference between boys and girls
  • the lowest level of absence by year group is in Years 7 and 8
  • the biggest increase in absence from year to year is from Year 7 to Year 8
  • there is no change in FSM absence levels
  • there is a slight increase in absence rates for pupils with EHCP and SEN support. 

The increase in absence between Years 7 and 8 is something that secondary schools may want to consider in their own data and plan interventions for Year 7 to Year 8 transition around attendance.

Primary schools

The data shows that:

  • in primary schools, there is a decrease in absence for boys and girls, but boys in primary continue to have lower levels of attendance than girls
  • whilst primary school absence is reduced in all year groups, the lowest levels of absence are in Years 3 and 4
  • there has been a decrease in absence levels for FSM pupils
  • the absence for children with SEN support or an EHCP has risen slightly.

The absence of boys may be an area that primary schools would want to look at in more detail within their own data.

It is worth noting that the absence levels and PA levels for SEN children are a concern in all settings and should be an area scrutinised by individual schools.

There are differences across the phases in the average amount of absence enrolments have from school. The percentage of children missing 25 days or more from school doubles from primary to secondary school (see Figure 2).

Persistent absence (PA)

PA levels overall have declined compared to 2017/18 (see Figure 3). This is across all phases and school types. The biggest decline in PA levels has been in special schools and PRUs. However, their PA levels are still far higher than children in mainstream primary or secondary schools. PA levels for children with EHCPs have risen slightly in both primary and secondary schools.

In primary schools, there has been a decline in PA for both pupils entitled to FSM and those not entitled to FSM. Whilst this is positive, the gap between those eligible and not eligible has not changed significantly.

PA levels have reduced in all year groups. PA levels increase in each year group from Year 4 upwards, with the largest leap being from Year 7 to Year 8, which is the same pattern as in 2017/18.

Figure 4

Absence data and school closures 2019/20

At the time of writing, schools have been closed since 23 March to all but key workers’ children and vulnerable children. Schools have been advised to mark their registers as ‘#’ (‘Planned closure to all children’) (with separate records kept for the attendance of those accessing school.) This means that absence data and PA ta currently only exists up until Friday 20 March 2020.

The DfE has stated that no schools should be penalised for attendance in this period and that no absence data for the year 2018/19 will be included in school performance tables. Ofsted inspections are currently suspended.

Under the usual schedule, the next set of data to be published is absence and PA data for Autumn Term 2019, usually published in May 2020. The School Summer Census 2020 has been cancelled.

Implications for schools

Next steps for school attendance officers/leads should be the following:

  1. Familiarise yourself with the data tables and not just the overview contained in the statistical absence release. In addition to the information summarised in this article, there is data at local authority level, code usage, type of SEN and IDACI band (deprivation measure).
  2. Use your school’s EIMS school management system to produce reports for the absence and PA data for your school up to 20 March 2020.
  3. Identify any areas where your school data is under-performing compared to the national data for all children in the equivalent setting (primary/secondary/special/PRU).
  4. Identify any significant gaps/differences in the attendance of groups.
  5. Compare the previous two years of school data using the same timeframe, to identify any persistent areas of high/low absence or PA.
  6. Compare code usage in your school and groups in your school against national data.
  7.  Develop a strategic action plan to improve absence and PA levels for the groups identified, not comparing like for like.

When completing stages 4 and 5, you should identify the number of individual pupils that make up these groups. Decide if differences between groups are because of issues relating to one or two pupils that need to be addressed on an individual basis or if there are common issues/patterns that need a more strategic response.

Please note that when you are comparing your data for this time period to the 2018/19 full year release, you are not comparing like for like. To illustrate this, included in Figure 4 above is the data for Autumn and Spring 2018/19.

Toolkit

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

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About Author

Joanne Sierzega

Joanne Sierzega worked for almost 16 years in local authority education welfare. Since then she has established CSAWS (Central School Attendance and Welfare Services Ltd) with two partners. CSAWS comprises a team of education welfare officers who are committed to achieving better outcomes for children by securing regular attendance at school.

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