New analysis shows the “staggering” increase in persistent absence from schools across the country following the coronavirus pandemic.
The research shows absenteeism has become widespread across the entire pupil population in primary and secondary schools across the country. The rising tide of absences has eradicated a once strong statistical correlation between local deprivation and absence rates.
Experts have warned of a national educational crisis as large numbers of children stay away from lessons.
The analysis, published on the British Politics and Policy Blog, was carried out by Andrew Eyles, from the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE, Esme Lillywhite, from the University of Strathclyde and research assistant at the Centre for Economic Performance and Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter.
Professor Elliot Major said: “This data shows the impact of coronavirus is sadly not just a one-off disruption, from which pupils would soon bounce back. The rise in absenteeism among pupils has been startling and there has been a staggering increase in persistent absence. We now face a national education crisis in the post pandemic era: a huge slice of the Covid generation have never got back into the habit of regularly attending school.”
During the autumn term of 2017/18, 4.4 percent of lessons were missed across all state-maintained schools; during the autumn term of 2021/22, 6.9 percent lessons of were missed. In 2017/18, 11.7 percent of pupils missed 10 or more sessions (defined as half a day of school); in 2021/22, 23.5 percent of pupils missed 10 or more sessions.
In 2017/18, the rate of persistent absenteeism was 24 percent greater in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived areas. Researchers have found no evidence of such a difference when comparing the bottom and top deciles of areas by deprivation this year.
Overall, the number of pupils classed as persistently absent rose from 921,927 to 1,672,178 between 2019/20 and 2021/22. Breaking this down by free school meal status, the rate of persistent absence doubled for non-FSM pupils across the country, going from 10.5 percent to 20.0 percent. In percentage terms, this far outstrips the rise amongst FSM pupils from 23.8 percent to 33.6 percent.
Overall absence which increased from 4.3 percent to 6.0 percent for non-FSM pupils (a 40 percent rise) and 7.6 percent to 9.7 percent for FSM eligible pupils (a 28 percent rise).
Mr Eyles said: “These patterns mirror those we have observed in previous work, where we found that educational losses were widespread during the pandemic and not confined solely to children with the least resources. It appears that the most privileged children are being insulated from the damage impacting on the rest of the population, rather than the poorest pupils falling further behind everyone else.”
The reasons for the rising absences are still unknown. Increased anxiety, lack of mental health support, and budget pressures have been cited as have changes in parental working schedules. The research team has previously warned about a breakdown in trusting relationships between parents and teachers alongside increasing unhappiness with the narrow academic curricula schools are measured by.
Professor Elliot Major said: “In our view improving attendance needs to be part of a longer-term education recovery plan, one strand of which should aim to forge deeper school parent partnerships.”
The research team, whose work is supported by the Nuffield Foundation, are assessing the lasting impacts on school attainment and non-cognitive skills for pupils at different ages and academic levels. The aim is to help inform governments to develop the most effective ways of improving prospects for a generation facing multiple challenges including a sclerotic labour market, stagnant productivity growth, and rising costs of goods – particularly housing – that are essential for a good standard of living.