New statistics released by the Department for Education show that the overall pupil absence rate in schools in England has increased slightly to 4.7% in autumn and spring 2017/18, compared to 4.5% during the same period the year before.
The increase reflects a rise in the rates of authorised, unauthorised and persistent absence. As in previous years, illness was the most common cause of absence. There had been a slight increase in unauthorised absence due to family holidays.
Absence rates were higher for some groups of pupils than others: those eligible for free school meals and those with special educational needs (SEN) were more likely to be absent. While this may be related to medical issues for some pupils with SEN, it is worth considering how pupil premium funds could be utilised to address low attendance among pupils eligible for free school meals.
The highest overall absence rates were found among Traveller of Irish Heritage and Gypsy/Roma pupils; those governing schools with pupils from these groups may be interested in research published by LKMCo last year which explores some barriers to achievement that gypsy, Roma and traveller pupils experience.
Governing boards should be aware of how attendance in their school(s) compares to national averages, including among different groups of pupils, and work with senior leaders to identify and address drivers of avoidable absence.