Latest figures from the Department for Education (DfE) show that the overall pupil absence rate sits at 4.5%. One in 10 of those school children are classed as “persistently absent”.
A persistently absent child is one who misses school for at least 10% of the time.
The figures show that secondary schools had a higher rate of persistent absence than in primary schools. Moreover, unauthorised absence, whether persistent or not, also increased.
To assess why pupils skipped classes, the BBC took to the streets in cities across the country to speak to school children. They gave a range of reasons including anxiety, depression, bullying and having little interest in the subjects they are taught. Many of those interviewed also claim they wanted more support at school, with some wishing they could go back and “start all over again”.
According to DfE statistics, sickness absence was the main reason why children would miss school in the autumn 2016 and spring 2017 terms. Despite this, illness rates remained the same as the previous year at 2.7%. Unauthorised absences increased, including unauthorised family holidays.
It is important to note that overall school absences in England declined since the same period a decade earlier, as did the percentage of pupils who were persistently absent.
Perhaps the most surprising finding to come from the statistics was where the truancy was at its highest. While high deprivation indicators based on health, crime, education and crucially income are commonly linked to high truancy, a closer look shows this isn’t necessarily the case.
Some of the wealthiest local authorities such as Bath and North East Somerset had one of the highest levels of truancy in 2015 to 2016. Manchester, a city which ranks highly on deprivation levels, sat at the other end of the scale and had one of the lowest levels of truancy.
Comparing middle income areas also throws up contrasts. For instance, Norfolk and Herefordshire are similar overall when assessing health, crime education and income, yet the truancy rate in Norfolk in 2015 to 2016 was significantly higher than in Herefordshire.
How reliable/revealing is the data?
Pupil absence in England is measured at local authority level and deprivation by district so one can only look at the picture as an average with variation within each area.
Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales record pupil absence in dissimilar ways.
In Wales, overall absences increased in 2016 to 2017 for the previous year, with unauthorised and persistent absence also increasing, yet persistent absenteeism was less than half of what it was eight years prior.
Attendance records in Scotland are only recorded once every two years. From 2014-2015, the overall attendance rate got better than in the previous report but the unauthorised absence rate increased.
In Northern Ireland, the attendance rate remained unchanged from the previous year, staying at 94.6%.