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The Problem with School Attendance


We can all agree that school attendance of pupils and staff has been significantly impacted during this pandemic.  As you can see in Government reports, there has been a huge drop in attendance – for example in the Spring term of 2021, 57.5% of students were unable to access any education (1).

Yes, I can believe this Government statistic … as this is my own experience of what happened.  But I’d like us, for a moment, to explore the statistics that have not been identified or shared.  The statistics of children that are missing from full-time education – where is the data from the Government on those children?

Missing Data: Flexible Timetables

A Government statistic states that attendance of students in England (excluding Years 11-13) in state-funded schools on 28th April 2022 was 92.3% (2)

Mmmmm … 92% attendance – is this including students who are on a flexible timetable?

Now, for those reading this post who are unsure of sure what a flexible timetable is.  Let me explain:

A reduced flexible timetable is an agreement between the family and school that a student who is struggle with attendance, to due mental ill-health, can access – to help reintegrate them back into full-time education.

It is a wonderful intervention system for many students. With soft landings in place, reasonable adjustments made, RAG systems to show which lessons the student finds tricky.  Brilliant!  Hooray! But – hold on … where is the Government data that reflects this information?

Now, please don’t get me wrong – this isn’t about beating someone over the head with this information.  But what I’m confused about is, if 92% are in fulltime education – why do I see hundreds of posts each week from families saying how their child is struggling to attend school and are on reduced timetables? Why am I supporting so many young people, who are only attending school for an hour a day?

If the Government is so passionate to improve our education system – where is the data on flexible timetables?  If the existing system is so effective – why are so many students only accessing an hour of it a day?

Missing Data: Local Authority – Alternative Provisions

So, let’s explore another topic – alternative provisions.  If you can imagine for a moment – that a vulnerable child has gone through the flexible timetable intervention, for the allocated 6-weeks and is still unable to access school fulltime.  What happens then?

Well, if the parent is lucky and they have a supportive relationship with their GP or other Healthcare Professionals and can evidence the medical grounds for a student’s poor attendance.  The Local Authority will provide access to an Alternative Provision.  Hooray!  But – hold on … this takes weeks if not months to set up … where is the data that reflects those children who are not accessing any education? Is that information within the 92%?  But the child isn’t in education yet?

Missing Data: Accessing the Whole National Curriculum?

Now, to my final question.  Of the 92% of students – how many were accessing the full national curriculum – full-time?

For those parents with children that love school – you may wonder what I’m talking about.  But the sad reality is – too many students are on reduced timetables for a sustained period and only access school for core subjects that are linked to their GCSEs.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that those vulnerable students, who are at high risk for mental ill-health are pushed into attending school fulltime to gain access to the rich and broad curriculum.  My point is – what is wrong with the current education system, that is causing them to have mental ill-health in the first place?  Surely, there needs to be another way.  And until we see a true reflection of the problem – we are only compounding it.

It shouldn’t be that teachers are a young person’s mental well-being advisor.  But they are (3).  It shouldn’t be that young people are leaving secondary school will insufficient knowledge, skills, and understanding to gain employment within their community – but they are.

Missing Data: Increase in Home Schooling

The number of parents choosing to home school their children has increased by 34% in England over the last two years.(4)

Now this to me isn’t a huge surprise – for many young people, this opportunity gave them an insight into an alternative way to learn.  One that isn’t restricted to sitting and listening – instead one that is focused on their individual learning styles and subjects that they are interested in.

However, my concern is why.  Why have so many families opted for home schooling,  as an alternative to the National Curriculum (GSCEs)?  Where is the data being collected, by the Government, on that?  Once ‘we’ as education practitioners, curriculum subject leaders, heads of school, pastoral teams, and families understand the barriers a young person has to accessing this provision – then, surely we can adapt it to meet need?

I wonder what learning opportunities this would create?  If schools were able to adapt their curriculum based on the needs of the cohort, community,  and accessibility to business links – wow – now wouldn’t that be amazing!   To begin your education within a system that is guaranteed to help you draw on your strengths and be an active, contributing member of society.  Wow!  Now that’s a system I’d like my children to be part of.

Question to Child : “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

Answer: “Well, my strengths are in teamwork and helping others. I really enjoyed working with Helping the Homeless last week.  Maybe I’ll become a fundraiser or have my own business helping others.

… I know right! 

So, to end this blog post

I hope, from reading this – it’s given you a chance to pause and reflect. Too often, we become complacent and accepting of the information we are given – without question.

Now, are you ready to ask the questions to where the missing data is?  I know I am!


  1. Pupil Absence in Schools in England
  2. Attendance in England
  3. Mental Health and Pandemic: the growing crisis facing children
  4. Increase in Home Schooling
  5. New Laws to Level Up Education