School attendance rates in Scotland and Northern Ireland have “clearly been highest” since UK schools reopened full time following lockdown, a new report comparing school attendance across the UK has found.
The Education Policy Institute (EPI) report says that policymakers in England and Wales “should be looking to see what they can learn” from the other two home nations.
Report author Luke Sibieta states: “This research shows that so far in the autumn term, Scotland has been the most successful with getting pupils back into the classroom, with far higher school attendance rates than England and Wales over the last two months.”
However, the report also highlights that within Scotland attendance rates “are lowest in the most deprived areas (89 per cent) and highest in the least deprived areas (95 per cent)”.
EPI says that this is “highly unlikely to be a uniquely Scottish phenomenon” but is “a double blow” for these pupils and “a major source of concern”, given that evidence suggests disadvantaged pupils are likely to have lost greater learning time during lockdown.
The report concludes that “continuing Covid-related absences are going to make it incredibly hard to implement a fair exam process anything like that in a normal year”.
Mr Sibieta adds: “Other UK governments should urgently follow Scotland’s lead and publish attendance rates by local authority and for the poorest pupils, so that we can track attendance rates into the winter and identify those pupils in need of extra support.”
The report suggests the differences in attendance between the UK nations could be down to schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland having had “longest to plan”, given they did not reopen until August, whereas many schools in England reopened before the summer break. They had also reopened, the report said, when “infection rates were close to a low point”. The report also acknowledged “the differences will undoubtedly also reflect different infection rates”.
It said there were “many local authorities in England with much higher case numbers than Wales and Scotland, which is almost certainly acting to reduce overall attendance rates in England”.
In mid-October, for example, Liverpool and Knowsley reported case numbers of more than 600 per 100,000 and secondary school attendance rates were well below 70 per cent.
However, the report highlighted that the relationship between case numbers and attendance was by no means straightforward.
The report found that attendance rates were generally lower in areas with higher infection rates but added “attendance rates generally appear higher in Scotland than in Wales for areas with similar infection rates”.
For example, it found attendance rates were 87 per cent in Glasgow compared with 81 per cent in Merthyr Tydfil, despite higher case rates in Glasgow.
It also highlighted that some areas had low attendance rates and low infection rates, citing Fife as an example. Other areas, it said, had high infection rates and high attendance rates, such as South Lanarkshire.
In all four countries, attendance was higher in primary schools than secondary schools, reflecting higher infection rates among older pupils.
The report called for all parts of the UK to publish “more regular, detailed data on how school attendance is changing across local areas to enable greater scrutiny and understanding”.
It also highlighted the importance of providing appropriate support to disadvantaged pupils and special needs pupils, given attendance rates were lowest for these pupils.
Here are the Scottish attendance figures highlighted in the report:
- Attendance rates started relatively high at 94 per cent in the week starting 17 August. Attendance rates then dipped slightly, before remaining just over 90 per cent for most of September and October.
- Only about 2 per cent of pupils, on average, were absent for Covid-related reasons on any given day since full reopening in mid-August, though this reached about 3 per cent for the week starting 19 October.
- Within Scotland, attendance rates were lowest in the most deprived areas (89 per cent) and highest in the least deprived areas (95 per cent).
- Attendance rates by local authority in Scotland were found to vary from 87 to 95 per cent (excluding 81 per cent for the Outer Hebrides).
- The schools with the lowest attendance rates were special schools, with attendance rates of 91 per cent in Scotland.