School attendance – reversing the decline


School attendance is a pivotal factor in a student’s overall development and future success. Yet across the country school attendance has dropped significantly – why is this and what can we do to reverse this trend?

The situation then and now

In 2016, figures from the Department of Education revealed overall absence for both primary and secondary schools had dropped from 4.7% to 4.4% of sessions (either morning or afternoon). This was the highest school attendance record in a decade.

Six years later and government figures reveal over the 2022/23 academic year more than a fifth (22.3%) of pupils in England were persistently absent, i.e missing at least 10% of their school sessions.

What changed? The subject is far too complex to have a sole cause, but it’s obvious the Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on children and their school attendance. A study by consultancy Public First discovered there has been a massive shift in parents’ attitudes towards school attendance since the lockdowns, with a significant proportion choosing to take their children on holiday in term time. It also revealed these breaks are now being seen as socially acceptable. In its conclusion the report states: “Pre-Covid, ensuring your child’s daily attendance at school was seen as a fundamental element of good parenting. Post-Covid, parents no longer felt that to be the case, and instead view attending school as one of several – often competing – options or demands on their child on a daily basis, against a backdrop of a more holistic approach to daily life.”

Head of Ofsted, Amanda Speilman, noted in her final annual report that the pandemic had ‘left a troublesome legacy’, which is partly shown in lower attendance numbers.

Health issues, both physical and mental, are also exacting a heavy toll on attendance. Illness was the main cause of absence amongst pupils (and staff) in 2023, and much of this can be linked directly or indirectly to Covid.

 The Benefits of Regular Attendance

One of the primary advantages of regular school attendance is academic success. Students who attend school consistently are more likely to stay on track with their studies, grasp key concepts, and excel in examinations. The continuity of learning that consistent attendance provides is fundamental for academic achievement.

Data from 2019 shows that 84% of pupils in Key Stage 2 who had 100% attendance achieved the expected standard, while only 40% of pupils who were persistently absent managed to hit their target.

The pattern repeats at secondary school. Pupils who didn’t achieve a grade of 4 to 9 in maths and English on average had missed 10 more days over the key stage than those students who achieved grade 9 to 5 in both maths and English. It’s estimated that just 17 missed school days per year will result in a drop in GCSE grade.

Beyond academic results, school is also a crucial environment for social and emotional development. Regular attendance allows students to form lasting friendships, engage in extracurricular activities, and develop the essential interpersonal skills they’ll need in adult life. 

School attendance also instils discipline and a sense of responsibility in students, qualities that are invaluable for future success. Employers often seek people who demonstrate reliability and commitment—traits that are cultivated through consistent attendance from an early age.

Strategies to Improve Attendance

Implementing effective strategies to improve attendance requires a comprehensive whole-school approach that addresses the root causes. However, it’s key to treat each case individually, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Focus on Success

Because students are less likely to attend school if they find lessons unengaging and irrelevant, we take great efforts across Paradigm Trust to teach in a way that results in students feeling they are doing something worthwhile, but also secure enough that they feel safe. This feeling of achievement then helps them become more engaged in lessons. The methods we use to do this are continually reviewed in all our schools to find ways we can refine and improve, which are then shared across the Trust.

Parental Involvement

Parents play a crucial role in ensuring their children attend school regularly. We promote parental involvement through regular communication, parent-teacher meetings, and highlighting the importance of attendance for their child’s future. In some cases we have found it beneficial to help set up a timetable for the home, and found offering to collect pupils from their home in extenuating circumstances to be effective in supporting families to break some of those barriers to good attendance. 

 Early Intervention and Support

Identifying attendance issues early on is essential for effective intervention. Paradigm goes to great lengths to establish a supportive environment in all its schools where students feel comfortable discussing their challenges can lead to early intervention and prevent prolonged absences. 

This can take many forms, such as a large pastoral team as at Ipswich Academy, our secondary school in Suffolk; or Home School Support Workers and Attendance Teams as at Culloden Primary Academy in East London. School nurses provide another contact point for children struggling with issues that restrict their attendance, or there may be other avenues to take, such as bringing in external agencies. Paradigm’s London schools for example are working with external Impact Ed. to try and address the core issues behind poor attendance.

Communication is also key to understanding and taking effective action. Old Ford Primary Academy has recently surveyed pupils and parents, and is now using that feedback to create an informed action plan which supports pupils with attendance.

Positive Reinforcement

Recognising and rewarding good attendance can motivate students to attend school regularly. Schools can implement attendance awards, certificates, or even small incentives to celebrate students with high or significantly improved attendance. Examples used at Paradigm schools include weekly attendance competitions, half term parties for classes with the best attendance, non-school-uniform days and prize draws.


By having a range of tools available, and taking the time to understand each student’s particular situation, it’s possible to respond effectively and improve school attendance. After implementing a soft start room for students to come into at the start of the day with a member of the pastoral team, Ipswich Academy is now seeing students come into school everyday this year who didn’t attend school at all the previous year. Similar success stories are happening across the Trust. 

Through this work more pupils are spending more time at school, and as a result are better educated and better prepared to succeed in their adult lives.

Last updated January 17, 2024