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Government criticised over ‘alarming’ pupil absence figures

New figures on pupil absence have been released (Nicholas Ansell/PA)

The Government has been criticised over “alarming” figures on pupil absence from schools last autumn, with nearly a quarter of students persistently absent.

The latest data from the Department for Education showed that 23.5% of pupils had missed 10% or more sessions (morning or afternoon) of school during the autumn term of the 2021-22 academic year, equating to more than 1.6 million pupils and up from 13% in 2020.

The Government said the figures were “driven by illness (including positive Covid cases), with 14% of all pupils missing 10% or more sessions due to illness alone”.

The overall absence rate also rose, from 4.7% in 2020 to 6.9% in 2021, but after controlling for Covid-related absences, total absence rates actually fell.

A dedicated programme of school attendance monitors to get these kids back into school has never been more needed
Alice Wilcock

The DfE said that the overall number of sessions of children not in school decreased from 11.7% in autumn 2020 to 8.5% in autumn 2021.

Covid-related absence fell from 7% to 1.6% between autumn 2020 and autumn 2021, coinciding with a change in isolation rules.

A DfE spokesperson said: “It is good to see that overall more children were in school in autumn 2021 compared to the previous term – but we know that Covid has continued to present challenges over this academic year.

“The best place for children to learn is in the classroom with inspirational teachers, which is why we are continuing to work with schools, local authorities and academy trusts to further drive up attendance.

“The Schools Bill currently going through Parliament will also bring about significant changes to the attendance system, improving consistency across the country and helping tackle persistent absence.”

A think tank said that the figures are “alarming”.

The Centre for Social Justice’s head of education, Alice Wilcock, said that “with both severe and persistent absences up and at record levels, the overall picture is very alarming”.

“It shows over 1,000 schools in autumn 2021 had an entire class-worth of severely absent children – up 53% on the already worrying figures from autumn 2020. The 25% of children persistently absent, likewise at record levels, is also a matter of concern,” she added.

“A dedicated programme of school attendance monitors to get these kids back into school has never been more needed.”

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