The High Court oral judgment represents a significant threat to one of the Government’s most important achievements in education over the last six years, improving school attendance.
There is abundant academic research which shows that time spent in school is one of the single strongest determinants of a pupil’s academic success. The most recent was published by the Department on 24 March, and shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a child’s attainment at the end of key stage 2 and key stage 4. This is unfair on children and potentially damaging to their life chances.
That is why we have unashamedly pursued a zero tolerance policy on unauthorised absence. We have increased the penalty notices issued to parents for pupils with unauthorised absence, shortened the time it takes to pay a notice from 42 day to 21 days, placed a greater emphasis on school attendance levels in inspection outcomes. We have also tightened the regulations in relation to term time holidays, so that headteachers should only grant such leave in exceptional circumstances. These measures have been very successful.
The number of persistent absentees in England’s schools has dropped by over 40% from 433,000 in 2009/10 to 246,000 in 2014/15. Some 6 million fewer days were lost due to authorised absences in the first five half terms in 2014/15 compared to the equivalent period in 2012/13 - a drop from a total of 47.9 million days missed to 41.8 million days missed. Overall absence rates have followed a significant downward trend: from 6.5% in the academic year ending in 2007 to 4.6% in the academic year ending in 2015. In 2012/13, 7.0% of all absences were accounted for by authorised term time holiday. This figure dropped to 2.6% of all absences in 2013/14 and 1.6% of all absences in 2014/15.
This means that pupils are spending many more hours in school being taught the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life. If we are going to address entrenched academic underachievement, continuing to improve school attendance will play a central role in achieving such an ambition.