What is driving pupils' absence from England's schools?

Against the backdrop of an attendance crisis in English schools, with persistent absence rates at almost 1 in 4 (22.3%) during the last academic year, ImpactEd Evaluation, part of ImpactEd Group, today publishes the first report from its Understanding Attendance Project. Looking at attendance data from 200,000 pupils, alongside surveys with 30,000 young people, the project seeks to support schools to gain a better understanding of the drivers of attendance in their setting and help build the evidence base around effective attendance interventions nationally.

Since the project launched last Spring more than 200 schools have engaged with the study, with that number continuing to grow. The project is split into two phases. During the first phase, participating schools undertake a diagnostic study, in which pupils complete short academically validated questionnaires to assess which drivers are most predictive of pupils' attendance in their setting. These responses are then brought together with pupils’ attendance and demographic details. Schools then receive a report analysing attendance drivers and how they are interacting with various pupil groups in their school context. During phase 2, attendance interventions targeted at particular groups can then be tested, tracked and evaluated through the ImpactEd Group’s School Impact Platform.

The first national report from Understanding Attendance, published in January 2024 shows three critical findings:

Finding 1: Sense of school belonging is a key driver of attendance across all contexts.

Pupils with higher attendance rates consistently demonstrate higher scores in sense of school membership questions compared to those who are in the bottom quintile of school attendance (10% difference).  

Overall, female pupils feel less strongly connected to the school community (a difference of nearly 8%) as well as less safe in school (3% less safe during lessons and breaks and 5% less safe on the journey to and from school), and this appears to impact their likelihood to attend.

Figure 1: Question breakdown for the sense of school membership measure for male and female pupils on average. This graph represents that, on average, female pupils' sense of belonging scores were lower compared to their male peers.
Finding 2: There is an emerging challenge of the ‘second transition’ from Year 7 to Year 8 that deserves greater attention.

In the report’s sample there is a more pronounced difference in attendance and its drivers between Year 7 and 8 than any other year group transition. This is most pronounced for Pupil Premium pupils (88% Year 8 attendance Vs 92% in Year 7) and pupils with SEND (87% Year 8 attendance Vs 92% Year 7 attendance). 

Compared to Year 7 pupils, Year 8 scored lower in all social and emotional measures related to attendance, and reported being more anxious. The most notable differences are shown in the sense of school membership measure where in Year 8, pupils reported results 9% below that of pupils in Year 7.

Figure 2: Survey response scores for Year 7 and Year 8 pupils by measures. This graph indicates higher levels of anxiety for Year 8 pupils and lower scores, on average, in other measures compared to their Year 7 peers. 

There was a statistically significant correlation between attendance and sense of school membership for Year 8 pupils, but not for Year 7 pupils. This implies that from Year 8 onwards, pupils’ sense of community, or lack thereof, plays a more prominent role in their likelihood of coming to school. 

Finding 3: Attendance drivers are intersectional. 

As suggested by other research socio-economic and other forms of disadvantage are correlated with lower attendance. However, the biggest differences in attendance are intersectional. For example, pupils who are both Pupil Premium and have a SEND have lower attendance rates. Comparing this data by gender further compounds this. The difference was particularly stark for female Pupil Premium pupils with SEND between Year 9 to Year 11. The average attendance for this group in Year 11 was just 77%, considerably lower than the average national attendance and 4% below male pupils in the same subgroup.

Figure 3: Intersectional subgroup attendance rate data. Using this graph, we can see specific subgroups in need of further consideration.

From this data it is clear that school leaders should avoid considering demographic factors in isolation.

Interested in understanding the drivers of attendance in your school? Join our project. 

We are expanding the Understanding Attendance project to help more schools and Trusts analyse the drivers of attendance and access effective strategies. The more schools that participate in the project, the clearer the picture will become. To participate in the project, register your interest here.

Interested in hearing more about our initial findings?

On 18th of January 2024, Owen Carter, Co-Founder and Managing Director of ImpactEd Group, was joined by Leora Cruddas CBE, Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, and Gianni Bianchi, Director of Inclusion and the Primary Director of Education at The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT), to discuss further the Report 1-Understanding Attendance Findings. In this discussion, expert panelists delved in further on the Understanding Attendance project findings, how drivers of low attendance differ for pupil groups, and national data trends on attendance. Speaking about the findings Leora Cruddas CBE, Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said:

“The findings from this report are an important contribution to building our understanding of the factors affecting attendance. We need to pay attention to the data and findings in this report, but not with desperation, with the courage to know that is can be different. As we understand more about the drivers of pupil absence, we are better able to respond and to build school cultures of belonging.”

You can view the webinar recording for the event here.

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