Pupils who miss the first days of school at the start of term have poorer attendance than their peers overall, according to new analysis.
In a new report from children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza, figures show that pupils with unauthorised absence on any day of the first week of term have an overall unauthorised absence rate of 25%.
The analysis of around 32,000 children from three multi-academy trusts also showed that pupils who missed the second, third and fourth day of a new term were predicted to record an overall absence of around 43%, or 30 days across the term, “significantly more than their peers who attended those first few days”.
And while Fridays are the most common day for pupils to be absent, pupils who miss midweek days from Tuesday to Thursday are more likely to be habitually absent from school.
Pupils who did not miss any sessions of school during the first week of term, in contrast, had an overall unauthorised absence rate of 2%.
Those who missed days near the end of term were associated with an overall absence rate of 20-30%, with lower rates of absence compared to peers who missed days during the first week.
Dame Rachel said her target of 100% attendance in September is not about “blaming parents if the system cannot, at present, support their child attending school” but “about everyone that works with children, and has a responsibility towards them, coalescing around an ambitious target”.
Looking at attendance in the autumn term of 2021, the paper finds that pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) as well as those eligible for pupil premium funding were more likely to have a higher rate of overall absence than their peers.
Dame Rachel said the analysis showed that the “first week of term was critical for getting pupils into school and settled into the school routine”.
She said pupils need to “feel excited and supported to attend school in the first week in September” and that she will be supporting this through the Back Into School campaign.
Dame Rachel said councils need to plan for how they will help vulnerable pupils attend school, while schools themselves should “use the last few weeks of term to ensure that their pupils feel ready for the new school year”.
She said schools should make full use of their data from the first day of term to identify pupils for early intervention on attendance.
The report also said Friday was the most common day for pupils to be off.
Dame Rachel said: “Schools must work with their children and their families to highlight the importance of attending school every day and that, whilst one day may not feel like much, it can make it harder to keep up in classes, as each lesson builds on the previous one.
“Schools could also consider making Fridays more appealing by holding popular clubs or extra-curricular activities at Friday lunchtimes or after school.”