More than one in four (27.2 per cent) pupils were persistently absent from school lessons during the spring term – up from 23.5 per cent in the autumn term last year. Over the autumn and spring terms combined, the persistent absence rate – the proportion of pupils missing 10 per cent or more of their possible sessions – was 22.3 per cent.
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This figure is more than double the usual rate of around 10-11 per cent in previous years. The Department for Education has said the increase was driven by rises in illness absence, including positive Covid cases.
Pupils isolating at home due to Covid led to a significant increase in overall absences from school, with the rate rising from 5.8 per cent in autumn 2019 to 7.4 per cent in autumn 2020 and then to 10.1 per cent in spring 2021.
The persistent absence was also driven by an increase in unauthorised absences, which rose from 0.5 per cent in autumn 2019 to 0.9 per cent in autumn 2020, then to 1.3 per cent in spring 2021.
Commenting on the figures, a Department for Education spokesperson said:
“We know how important it is for children and young people to be in school – that is why we have worked hard to keep schools open during the pandemic.”
“We have also implemented measures to support pupils absent from school, including catch-up funding and extra tutoring.”
“We are working with schools and local authorities to understand the reasons for any increase in absences and will continue to do everything we can to reduce them.”
The figures come as the government is facing calls to do more to support pupils who have fallen behind during the pandemic.
A recent report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that, based on data from England’s largest exam board, around 40 per cent of pupils in Year 11 – the equivalent of about one in six pupils – are likely to achieve below a grade 4 in English and maths this summer.
This is the equivalent of around 200,000 pupils, and the EPI has warned that the “disadvantage gap” between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is set to widen due to the pandemic.
The government has said it is providing £1.7 billion in funding to support pupils affected by the pandemic, including £650 million for a one-off catch-up premium for schools.
However, the EPI has said that this is “insufficient” and has called on the government to do more, including increasing funding for catch-up programmes and providing additional support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Dr Emma Hardy MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said the figures were “deeply concerning” and showed that the government was “failing to get a grip on the scale of this crisis”.
“The education of a generation of children is at risk of being lost forever,” she said.
“Ministers must urgently get a grip on this situation and provide the resources and support that schools and pupils need.”
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