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Pupil absence in schools in England: Academic year 2021/22

students walking through gate

This release looks at pupil absence across the 2021/22 academic year, including by reason and school types.

Overall absence rate

  • 7.6%

Percentage of persistent absentees (10% or more missed)

  • 22.5%

Absence rates have been higher than previously throughout 2021/22

The overall absence rate across 2021/22 was 7.6%, Across terms, overall absence rates were

  • Autumn term – 6.7% 
  • Spring term – 7.9% 
  • Summer term – 8.0% 

Illness was the major driver of overall absence, at 4.4% across the academic year. The increase in Summer term was driven by an increase in absence in secondary schools, while primary and special school absence rates decreased from Spring to Summer.

The persistent absence rate, the percentage of pupils who missed 10% or more sessions, was 22.5% across 2021/22. Across terms, persistent absence rates were

  • Autumn term – 23.5%
  • Spring term –  27.2%
  • Summer term – 26.4%

The combined rate of absence and not attending due to COVID circumstances has decreased

In 2020/21 and 2021/22, data was collected on the number of sessions recorded as not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Initially, this included where pupils were self-isolating and shielding, including when a class or bubble was required to stay at home. During these sessions, pupils were expected to not attend or were prohibited from attending and so they are treated separately and not counted within the standard absence rates within this publication. Where a pupil was not attending in these circumstances, schools were expected to provide immediate access to remote education.

In 2021/22, this category should mostly have been used to record where a pupil was absent from school with symptoms of COVID-19 whilst awaiting the results of a test. From April 2022, in line with our transition to living with COVID-19, schools were no longer advised to record pupils who did not attend for reasons related to COVID-19 using a separate code (Code X). This was in line with the fact that pupils with symptoms of COVID-19 were no longer advised to get a test, and most of the scenarios that this category was brought into to record no longer applied. Instead, where a pupil did not attend because they have symptoms of COVID-19 or had a positive test, schools were advised to record this using Code I (illness) unless another more appropriate code applied.

As a result, sessions recorded as “not attending due to COVID circumstances” decreased to 1.0% across the academic year. This was 21.3% for the 2020/21 academic year.

When combining absence with not attending due to COVID circumstances, we see a combined rate of 8.5% across 2021/22. This compares to 25.9% in 2020/21, when national restrictions had a large impact on attendance. In spring 2021, this combined rate was 60.8%, reflecting the period of lockdown from 4 January 2021 where only children of critical workers and vulnerable children could attend school.

Sector Response

Teach First CEO Russell Hobby responding to the statistics:

“It is deeply worrying to see a rise in pupil absences compared to the last academic year before the lockdown. Alongside ongoing sickness, the pandemic contributed to this – triggering a disengagement with school for some and increased mental health concerns. Pupils from the poorest backgrounds have the least resources to deal with these challenges. 

“Schools and teachers cannot tackle this alone. As a start, the government should prioritise school funding towards the most disadvantaged communities, to help these schools implement targeted support to the pupils most in need.  

“In the long-term, we need to do more to understand the reasons behind this increase – so we can prevent a generation of children from suffering lifelong damage to their education.”  

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