++ Number of unauthorised holidays taken during term has tripled in last decade ++
++ Impact on attainment revealed as more holiday time means worse results for schools ++
++ Free schools offer term-date flexibility and have lowest levels of unauthorised holidays ++
This NSN story was featured in The Sun
Primary schools saw significantly more holiday-related absences than secondary schools, accounting for more than 1.4 million – 70% - of school days lost.
Despite an overall fall in authorised holiday related absences, the number of unauthorised holidays – where parents do not have the permission of the school and may be liable for a fine - has grown dramatically over the last ten years. The number has tripled from 0.07% in 2006/7 to 0.21% in 2014/15:
Graph 1: Proportion of all possible school sessions at which the pupil was absent due to an unauthorised holiday since 2006/7, at primary and secondary phases
The impact of unauthorised absence on attainment is also clear. Primary schools with higher levels of unauthorised holiday rates see their children perform worse. Schools that have higher holiday absence rates see an average of 78.8% of children achieving a Level 4, which is below the national average and 1.6 percentage points behind the 80.4% that schools with low rates of unauthorised holidays achieve.
Graph 2 – average proportion of children receiving Level 4 or above at end of Key Stage 2 in reading, writing and mathematics by below-average and above-average levels of unauthorised absence due to holiday
The same is even clearer at secondary. In schools with high rates of unauthorised holidays just less than half of all pupils (49.9%) get five good GCSEs, compared to 54.6% in schools with lower numbers of holidays being taken.
Graph 3 – average proportion of children receiving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE including English and Maths by below-average and above-average levels of unauthorised absence due to holiday
Academies, local authority schools and free schools see different patterns of absence. Of all types of school, free schools are the type of school with a significantly lower rate of unauthorised absences due to holidays. Only 0.14% of school days were lost to holidays in 2014-15 in free schools, compared to 0.18% and 0.23% in academies and local authority maintained schools.
Table 1 – Number and percentage of school days lost to unauthorised holiday absences in maintained, academy and free schools, primary and secondary 2014-15
Total number of possible school days
Total number of school days lost to unauthorised holidays
Proportion of possible school days lost to unauthorised holidays
A number of free schools have the lowest level of unauthorised absence in their area. The Boulevard Academy – rated Outstanding – has the best attendance rates in Hull. Located in a poor area, it uses its freedom to set its own term dates to extend its summer term by two weeks, reducing the risk of children falling behind due to a long summer holiday. The XP School, a free school in Doncaster, has the lowest rate of unauthorised absence in the city. The school, which runs two-week half-terms and a four-week summer holiday, as well as offering an engaging curriculum for young people based on ‘Expeditionary Learning’, lost only one day to unauthorised absences in 2014-15.
Nick Timothy, Director of the New Schools Network, said:
“The High Court’s ruling on Friday is worrying because children are already missing too many days of school due to unauthorised absence. Free schools are able to give families greater flexibility when it comes to booking holidays, because they are able to design their own school year in close consultation with parents. This, along with their strong record on discipline and high academic standards, means that free schools have far fewer days lost to unauthorised absence than other types of state school. Free schools’ high attendance rates are yet more proof of their success across the country.”
Unauthorised holiday absence over time
-Absence statistics are drawn from Pupil absence in schools in England: 2014 to 2015. Data was compiled specifically from Underlying data: SFR10/2016, ‘SFR10_2016_Proposed_SFR _structure_5half_terms’.
-Absence is recorded by sessions, of which there are two per school day. Thus the overall number of sessions for each type of absence has been divided by two to find the equivalent number of school days lost.
-Unauthorised absences have tripled between 2006/7 and 2014/15, rising from 693,491 in 2006/7 to 2,018,835. Absence due to holidays overall has fallen from 6,736,816 school days in 2006/7 to 2,567,081 in 2014/15. This is due to a sharp decrease in the amount of authorised absences, having fallen from 6,043,325 school days in 2006/7 to 548,246 in 2014/15. These trends partly reflect the government’s decision to tighten authorised absences and introduce fines for the 2013/14 academic year.
-Absence statistics have historically been gathered for five half-terms across the academic year. As of 2012/3 figures have been collated for all six half terms but these have not been retrospectively collected. Therefore, to allow for historical comparison and consistency, data collected here uses the first five half-terms of the school year only.
Unauthorised holiday absence and attainment
-The schools from Pupil absence in schools in England: 2014 to 2015 were matched to their Key Stage 2 and GCSE performance, using the 2015 School and College Performance Tables. Schools for which performance data was suppressed or not available were omitted from the analysis. At primary school, the percentage of pupils achieving Level 4 in reading, writing and maths by the end of Key Stage 2 was used, and at secondary the percentage of pupils achieving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE including English and Maths was used.
-Schools which had an above average rate of unauthorised holiday absence were separated from those which sat at or below the national average. For primary schools this was 0.26%, and for secondary schools this was 0.14%. These schools were then mapped to their performance, which showed that primary and secondary schools with higher holiday absence rates performed worse on average than schools that did not.
-In addition to this comparison across all schools, four sub-samples of schools were studied at primary and secondary level to isolate the variable of unauthorised term time holiday absence by ensuring comparison between schools with similar pupil intakes. Schools were compared that were within the first, second, third and fourth quartiles of the proportion of pupils in those schools who started the relevant Key Stage with lower prior attainment. At secondary level, in addition to this, only non-selective schools were compared.
-A similar pattern, with schools with higher holiday absence rates performing less well, was found when comparing within these groups. Despite some variation in the extent of difference – schools with smaller numbers of pupils with lower prior attainment in particular saw a sharp difference whereas this impact was lesser in those schools with more pupils of lower prior attainment – the pattern was replicated:
Difference in performance at Level 4 between schools with above-average levels of unauthorised holiday absences and those with below-average levels
Difference in performance at 5ACEM between schools with above-average levels of unauthorised holiday absences and those with below-average levels
Low levels of low prior attainment (Quartile 1)
Below average levels of low prior attainment (Quartile 2)
Above average levels of low prior attainment (Quartile 3)
High levels of low prior attainment (Quartile 4)
-Absence rates were also linked to the type of school. This information was gathered by matching the open schools in Pupil absence in schools in England: 2014 to 2015 to their school type in Edubase (Accessed 14th May 2016; broken link as of September 2018). Schools that did not return a match were omitted from the analysis.
-The Boulevard Academy in Hull had 0.3% of its possible sessions lost to unauthorised absence in 2014/15, the lowest level in the local authority. The XP School in Doncaster lost only 2 sessions to unauthorised absences in 2014/15, the equivalent of one school day. The XP School states that its calendar comprises of “Five Terms of Eight weeks, with Two week holidays in-between, with Four weeks in Summer. This provides a more consistent calendar throughout the week, creates substantial breaks to recharge, and will make learning progression more consistent all year round.”
-Free schools are state funded schools that are independent of local authority control. They have the freedom to decide the length of school day and term, their curriculum, teacher pay and how they spend their budgets.
-There are over 400 free schools now open or approved to open across England. Once full they will provide over 235,000 new school places.
-More than three quarters of free schools that have been inspected have been judged as Good or Outstanding. They are more likely to be judged as Outstanding than other state schools.