Dr Ian Thomas is a Research Associate at ADR Wales, specialising in inequalities and in particular homelessness. In his blog, Ian discusses a recent Data Insight about his research on absence from school amongst a cohort of young people followed over an 11-year period.

Evidence exists of the association between attendance at school and attainment, particularly at Key Stage 2 and 4 (GCSEs). Because of this association, educational research often draws on annual attendance data when controlling for pupil characteristics. However, comparatively little research looks at patterns of school non-attendance over time. Taking a longitudinal approach to non-attendance could potentially lead to a better understanding of student pathways through education, and whether the cumulative effects of engagement with schooling is linked to education outcomes.

This analysis drew on school absence data along with pupil characteristics from the Pupil Level Annual School Census. A randomly sampled cohort of pupils age five years old at the start of the 2007/08 academic year (n=13,354) were followed for 11 years, until 2017/18. The analysis looked at sequences of sessions absent measured at 11 annual time-points, using cluster analysis to group pupils with similar sequences of school non-attendance.

Our analysis found that for the cohort, total sessions absent from school drastically declined when pupils entered secondary school. Pupils missing 41 or more half-day sessions in a year, i.e. more than 4 weeks of school, dropped from 14% in Year 6, to 6% in Year 7—at the start of secondary school. This apparent dramatic improvement in attendance may be due to the changing requirements and learning expectations placed on students in secondary school.

Four sub-groups of pupil absenteeism were identified, amongst them a group of pupils with persistently high levels of absence over the 11-year period. Amongst this chronic absenteeism group, those missing more than four weeks of school reached a low of 36% and a high of 84%. Future iterations of this analysis will explore links between patterns of engagement over time and GCSE results by linking to education attainment data.