Two pupils study a written piece of work with their tutor

Persistent absence rates highest among pupils with additional needs

Young people eligible for free school meals and identified SEN are much more likely to miss 10% or more sessions.  


  • Time to read: 5 minutes

The Department for Education has released new figures on attendance. In Autumn 2023, 20.1% children were persistently absent (missing 10% or more of available sessions). Although this is lower than absence rates in Autumn 2023 (where 24.2% of pupils were persistently absent), it’s still a huge concern that so many young people are missing out on vital educational support.  

What’s even more troubling are the statistics showing the rates of absence for pupils who are eligible for free school meals and those who have identified Special Educational Needs (SEN).  33% of young people who were eligible for free school meals were persistently absent in Autumn 2023 compared to 15.7% who were not eligible for free school meals. 

34.7% of children in receipt of SEN support were persistently absent while that number was 18.7 for those with no identified SEN.  

My office has spoken to hundreds of children who struggle to attend regularly, as part of our ongoing work on attendance. I have seen clearly that children aren’t absent from school because they don’t want to learn.

"On the contrary, they are desperate to learn but every day thousands of children find themselves without the support that they need to engage in education and attend school.

"One of the key findings from my Attendance Audit was that many children who are severely absent are often stuck on waiting lists for special educational needs provision or mental health support.

"These children are no less ambitious than their peers and they are no less entitled to a brilliant education.”
Dame Rachel De Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England

Low attendance can be attributed to many factors; we know that the mental health of children and young people has suffered more as a result of the pandemic. The cost-of-living crisis has created additional challenges for some young people attending school, with costs of transport and school meals proving too much for many families.  

These figures are of relevance to the work that we’re doing in the North of England, where we know that the impact of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have been felt more acutely than in other parts of the country. In the 2022/2023 academic year, 89% of the young people that we supported were either eligible for Pupil Premium or attending a school serving a low-income area. Our specialist Tutoring Plus service has been created to support young people with more complex needs, including persistent absence or identified SEN. Tutoring Plus provides young people with 1:1 tuition, so that they can get the additional support that they need from a positive role model.  

Tutoring isn’t just an effective intervention in terms of improving pupil attainment, it can also improve attendance. In fact, 68% of parents who were surveyed as part of Public First’s Future of Tutoring Report and whose children had received tutoring said that tutoring had had a positive impact on their child’s attendance.   

Although a year-on-year reduction in the number of persistently absent young people is positive, we have to address the fact that, once again, young people who are in need of additional support are those who are most affected. As well as being an effective intervention in helping young people to catch up on lost learning due to persistent absence, tutoring can encourage young people to attend school more regularly.”
Ed Marsh, Chief Executive, Tutor Trust

Our Tutoring Plus service has been created specifically to support young people who are persistently absent with a personalised, one-on-one tuition programme.  These figures highlight that low attendance in England is still a major area of concern and provides yet further proof that the government must commit to providing long-term funding for interventions such as tutoring so that the needs of young people are prioritised.

A secondary school-aged male pupil wearing a black blazer and red school jumper is sat at a desk. To his right is standing a female tutor with long blonde hair who is wearing a purple jumper. The boy is reading aloud to his tutor.

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