From education to employment

New Education Committee inquiry into persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils

diverse group of people from behind

A new inquiry by the Education Committee will investigate causes and possible solutions to the growing issue of children’s absence from school.  

Government statistics have shown that covid-19 is likely to have had a damaging effect on school attendance. In the 2021 autumn term, the most recent period for which data is available, 23.5% of all pupils were persistently absent (defined as missing 10% or more of sessions) and 1.4% were severely absent (meaning they missed at least 50% of sessions). In the 2018/19 academic year, the figures for persistent and severe absence were 10.9% and 0.8% respectively. 

The cross-party Committee of MPs will also examine links between pupil absence and factors such as economic disadvantage, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), ethnic background, and whether a child or a family member is clinically vulnerable to covid-19. Rates of attendance at alternative provision schools, typically for pupils who cannot attend a mainstream school due to behavioural or SEND-related issues, will also be considered. 

The Committee will question experts and education sector leaders on the Government’s proposals to improve schools’ data collection on attendance. Ministers also propose introducing a new national framework for the use of fines for absence. 

The inquiry will look for ways to better support pupils and their families both inside and beyond the school system to improve attendance. It will also examine whether schools providing breakfast clubs, free meals, and after-school or holiday activities can have a positive impact. The Committee has previously supported the use of attendance mentors and will seek evidence on how the Government’s pilots of attendance mentoring could help. 

Disadvantaged pupils are more likely to miss school. The latest national statistics showed 33.6% of pupils who were eligible for free school meals were persistently absent in Autumn 2021, compared to 20.0% of pupils who were not eligible. 

Furthermore, 30.6% of pupils who receive SEND support were persistently absent in Autumn 2021, compared with 21.5% for pupils who are not identified with SEND. 

Gypsy Roma pupils and pupils of Irish Traveller heritage had the highest rates of persistent absence in autumn 2021 (55.7% and 63.3% respectively), while Black African and Chinese pupils had the lowest rates (10.8% and 9.9%). Inner London had the lowest rates of persistent absence (19%) and the South West had the highest (26%). 

Education Committee Chair Robin Walker said:  

“Missing school can seriously undermine a child’s education and future life chances. It is imperative that we take a nuanced and sympathetic look at the reasons why absence has become a growing problem.

“Not only do children learn and socialise while in school, vulnerable youngsters are also kept out of harm’s way. We must look urgently at ways to reverse this damaging trend that appears to have worsened during the pandemic. 

“My colleagues and I will examine what innovative methods school leaders may be employing to help stop children and their families falling into a habit of missing school, with the risk of such habits becoming a downward spiral towards ‘severe’ absence. We will look at how targeted support can help to improve attendance and seek evidence as to what works both within and beyond the school system to create a positive culture of attendance.”  

Related Articles