Inspecting attendance: guidance for inspectors


Tony Powell provides clear advice on what Ofsted is looking for.


If I am leading a school in-service session for the first time I will always tell staff that Ofsted inspectors will arrive at their school using sat nav. The reason for this is to point out that the school community knows itself far better than any inspection team and therefore they must gather and present the evidence base to give a fair and accurate picture.

What inspectors do know better than schools is the Ofsted documentation, because they are using it all the time in different schools. Schools need to master the Ofsted methodology and criteria by building them into their own self-evaluation procedures. The content relating to attendance has been extracted from the main documents and is presented below, together with the implications for schools.

The Framework for School Inspection


Schools judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ are subject to risk assessments and this process begins in the third school year after the most recent section 5 inspection. Levels of attendance are scrutinised as part of the risk assessment.

Implications for schools

As well as patterns in overall attendance, inspectors will look at any fluctuations at the level of groups since this could signal a safeguarding issue. Where this has happened for a legitimate reason, schools should consider informing Ofsted if they are due a risk assessment.

School Inspection Handbook


Within behaviour and safety, inspectors are directed to check:

  • Overall and persistent absence and attendance rates for different groups
  • Punctuality over time in arriving at school and at lessons
  • The impact of the school’s strategies to improve behaviour and attendance
  • The number of pupils taken off roll in the last year as a result of factors related to behaviour, safety and attendance.

Grade descriptors

There are no references to attendance in the grade descriptors for good and outstanding but one of the criteria for grading behaviour and safety as inadequate is:

  • Attendance is consistently low for all pupils or groups of pupils and shows no or little sign of improvement.

Implications for schools

Clearly schools should monitor and evaluate these issues and address them in their Self-Evaluation Statement (SES).

Subsidiary Guidance


This is the most informative document and schools should study it in detail. Within behaviour and safety inspectors are directed to check as follows:

  • During the analysis of pre-inspection evidence, the lead inspector should compare the school’s statistics on attendance and exclusions as shown in RAISEonline against the national picture for all pupils. The inspector should look at whether any groups of pupils, for example those who have special educational needs, are being excluded disproportionately and how any inequalities in academic outcomes might be linked to behaviour.
  • During the inspection, inspectors should request the day’s absence list alongside the reasons for absence and cross-reference this with data on past exclusions and sanctions as a way of evaluating the behaviour of pupils who are not in school.

There is also a section devoted to:

Evaluating attendance

  • Learners’ attendance is evaluated in comparison to national figures for mainstream schools (not free school meal bands) as part of the judgement on behaviour and safety. This also applies to special schools and pupil referral units. Inspectors must use the data in RAISEonline and the figures below, combined with the school’s own analysis and documentary evidence, to evaluate attendance. When deciding whether attendance is consistently low, inspectors should consider how it compares with the attendance figures for the lowest 10% of schools. In 2011/12, this was 94.24% in primary schools and 92.61% in secondary schools.
  • It is important to note that published data are often dated, so current attendance must be taken into account. To evaluate whether attendance has changed since the last published figures, it is useful to compare attendance for the same time period, such as from September until the inspection date, in the current and previous school years.
  • The effectiveness of the school’s strategies to promote good attendance should be taken into account. RAISEonline presents the school’s attendance and persistent absence figures against free school meals data. However, while there is a clear statistical link between levels of social deprivation and attendance, this should not be taken as an excuse for poor attendance and high absence rates. It is not acceptable to judge poor attendance as ‘average’ on the basis that the school is working hard to improve it.
  • Inspectors should take into account any differences between the attendance of different groups of learners, such as those of different genders or ethnicities (for example Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children) when evaluating attendance. Inspectors should evaluate how much the school knows about the attendance patterns of groups of learners and the effectiveness of systems to alert them to changes in pupils’ attendance. A sudden or a gradual alteration can indicate a safeguarding issue.
  • Inspectors should also take account of whether the percentage of pupils present in each lesson observed is broadly consistent with the school’s attendance and absence figures. Investigate the school’s procedures for registering pupils and recording absence where discrepancies arise. Truancy from lessons may be occurring after pupils have initially registered.
  • In addition, inspectors should evaluate the support given to any pupils absent for long-term medical reasons, such as any in hospital, and arrangements made to keep pupils in touch with school work and how well these are maintained during extended spells in hospital or at home. Investigate the liaison arrangements in place with other supporting professionals, for example at the hospital school or home tuition.


Premium Plus subscribers can download this template document from the Toolkit section:

  • Handout – Using checklists to evaluate attendance

About the author

Tony Powell is an experienced Additional Inspector and LA adviser. He writes extensively on education management, but his main work is supporting schools to develop systems for self-evaluation, school improvement and continuing professional development. Tony can be contacted at


First published on this website in March 2014.

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