Chapter 6: Attendance and absence
92.0% attendance in 2020/21, down from 93.0% in 2018/19.
- The 2020/21 rate refers to attendance when schools were open.
- Comparisons between rates for when schools were open in 2020/21 and rates from previous years can be made at national and local authority level provided that the impact of COVID-19 is borne in mind.
COVID-19 impact on attendance recording
During 2020/21 there was disruption to school attendance caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This included:
- pupils being absent after testing positive for COVID-19 or when required to self-isolate.
- school closures following local outbreaks or when there were COVID-19 related staff absences.
- the closure of most school buildings between January and April 2021.
During periods where school buildings were closed to pupils, education continued via home-learning for the majority of pupils. For those vulnerable pupils who would benefit from being in school, and for children of key workers, provision was made to allow them to attend school buildings. Please see the background notes for more information on school closures during 2020/21.
To account for these changed circumstances, new attendance and absence codes were made available to schools to allow them to capture COVID-19 related absence and home learning provision. Due to the fast pace of their introduction, it was anticipated that use of these codes may be inconsistent between different schools and local authorities.
Some of these expected inconsistencies were evident during the preparation of these statistics alongside evidence that the usage of the new codes varied over the course of the year within individual schools and authorities, including underreporting of absence from home learning. This should be borne in mind when interpreting these statistics.
The background notes contain more information on these codes and the circumstances they were designed to capture as well as further information on the quality of these statistics.
Statistics on pupil attendance and absence
Statistics on attendance and absence are collected every two years.
For 2020/21 attendance and absence has been defined in three ways:
- ‘Attendance or absence – schools open’ includes attendance or absence only for the occasions when schools were open to pupils. Home-learning when the school was open but an individual pupil could not attend due to their personal circumstances (including COVID-19 related reasons) is included in this measure.
- ‘Attendance or absence – schools closed’ includes attendance at or absence from home learning when schools were closed to pupils due to a COVID-19 related reason. This includes instances when a whole school was shut or when a school was shut to a certain class or bubble of pupils. It does not include any attendance or absence for periods when schools were shut for non-COVID-19 reasons, for example school holidays or in-service days.
- ‘Attendance or absence – full year’ covers the whole school year, including occasions when schools were open and when they were closed due to COVID-19 related reasons.
The rates reported in the ‘attendance or absence – schools open’ measure is methodologically consistent to attendance rates from previous years as it is not affected by the known underreporting of absence from home-learning. Therefore this measure is comparable to previous years (bearing in mind the impact of COVID-19) and the main measure reported in this bulletin. The ‘attendance or absence – full year’ measure provides a complete picture of attendance across the whole school year. For details on the attendance and absence codes included in each of the measures see the background notes.
Other than Tables 6.1 and 6.2 all reporting and commentary in this bulletin refers to ‘attendance or absence – schools open’. In line with statistics from previous years, the statistics shown here are calculated on the basis of the number of half days (or openings) during school term-time.
|Schools open||Full year|
|Absence (authorised and unauthorised)||7.9||6.4|
Table 6.1 shows that the ‘attendance – schools open’ attendance rate was 92.0% and that the ‘attendance – full year’ attendance rate was 93.6%. Table 6.2 shows that school buildings were open (‘attendance or absence – schools open’) for nearly four-fifths (or 78.9% of possible half days) of the 2020/21 school year.
|Cumulative half days across all pupils||Percentage of full year|
|Attendance or absence - schools open||199,386,910||78.9|
|Attendance - schools open||183,518,507||72.6|
|Authorised absence - schools open||9,455,818||3.7|
|Unauthorised absence - schools open||6,377,448||2.5|
|Attendance or absence - schools closed||53,348,444||21.1|
|Home-learning - schools closed||53,033,388||21.0|
|Absence from home-learning - schools closed||315,056||0.1|
|Attendance or absence - full year||252,735,354||100.0|
Table 6.3 shows school attendance, absence and temporary exclusion rates over the period 2012/13 to 2020/21. The rate of attendance has decreased in each year data has been collected since 2014/15, with the biggest decrease between 2018/19 and 2020/21, reflecting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This most recent decrease in the attendance rate was caused by an increase in both authorised and unauthorised absence (Table 6.3). In 2020/21 absence due to parents isolating their child against public health advice relating to COVID-19 was included in 'other unauthorised absence' which may explain the increase in the aggregated unauthorised absence figures. However, the data collected by the Scottish Government does not include a breakdown of the instances where this situation was recorded to confirm this.
The increase in authorised absence in 2020/21 was largely driven by absence due to COVID-19 self-isolation without provision for home-learning which was not a factor in 2018/19 and earlier.
|Attendance - schools open||93.6||93.7||93.3||93.0||92.0|
|Sickness with education provision||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.1||0.1|
|COVID-19 sickness with provision for home-learning(3)||#||#||#||#||0.1|
|COVID-19 self-isolation with provision for home-learning(3)||#||#||#||#||1.8|
|Authorised absence - schools open||4.5||4.3||4.2||4.4||4.7|
|Sickness without education provision||3.7||3.5||3.5||3.6||3.5|
|Exceptional domestic circumstances||0.1||0.1||0.1||0.1||0.1|
|COVID-19 sickness without provision for home-learning(3)||#||#||#||#||0.0|
|COVID-19 self-isolation without provision for home-learning(3)||#||#||#||#||0.3|
|Unauthorised absence - schools open||1.8||2.0||2.4||2.6||3.2|
|Unexplained absence, including truancy||1.2||1.3||1.5||1.7||2.1|
|Exceptional domestic circumstances (unauthorised)||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0|
|Other unauthorised (including 'parents isolating their child against public health advice relating to COVID-19'(3))||0.1||0.1||0.2||0.2||0.8|
|All absences (authorised and unauthorised) - schools open||6.4||6.3||6.6||7.0||7.9|
(1) Detailed absence reasons will be affected by differing reporting practices across local authorities and over time. Overall absence and attendance are comparable.
(2) Attendance and absence reporting in 2020/21 was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. All figures in this table are comparable to those from previous years. Please see the background notes for more information.
(3) COVID-19 codes were not available in collections prior to 2020/21.
(4) Includes part-time timetable (exclusion related) and part-time timetable (health related). Please see the background notes for more information.
Table 6.4 shows the 2020/21 ‘attendance – schools open’ rate across each sector broken down by sex, ethnicity, additional support needs and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2020 (SIMD, 20% most deprived versus 20% least deprived).
As in previous years, pupils with additional support needs had a lower attendance rate than pupils with no additional support needs, with the difference being greater in secondary schools than primary schools.
Pupils living in the most deprived areas had lower attendance rates in all sectors than those living in the least deprived areas – across all sectors, pupils living in the 20% most deprived areas had an attendance rate of 88.7% compared to 95.0% for those living in the 20% least deprived areas. This effect was the greatest in secondary schools, with pupils living in the least deprived areas having an attendance rate 7.7 percentage points higher than those living in the most deprived areas.
Table 6.4 - Attendance by pupil characteristics - schools open, 2020/21, Percentage of half days
|Mixed or multiple ethnic groups||94.6||90.4||92.7||93.2|
|All other ethnic groups||91.9||89.2||88.8||91.0|
|Not Disclosed / Not Known||92.4||87.8||88.5||91.2|
|Pupils with ASN||92.0||86.4||89.3||89.4|
|Pupils with no ASN||94.8||90.6||#||93.3|
|Most deprived 20% of SIMD||90.9||85.1||87.6||88.7|
|Least deprived 20% of SIMD||96.5||92.8||92.1||95.0|
(1) Pupils that were not matched to the Pupil Census have not been included.
(2) SIMD data not available for 12,160 pupil enrolments (1.67% of the total) including the pupils not matched to the Pupil Census. Please see the background notes for more information.
Table 6.5 shows local authority attendance rates over the period 2012/13 to 2020/21. In 2020/21 the ‘attendance – schools open’ rate varied between 89.8% and 95.5%. This range in attendance rates was wider than the preceding years. Variations between local authorities will reflect different local impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and variations in recording practices as well as pupils' attendance behaviour. Comparisons between local authorities should only be made when these factors are taken into consideration.
|Argyll and Bute||94.3||94.2||93.7||93.5||93.3|
|City of Edinburgh||93.9||94.1||93.9||93.8||92.6|
|Dumfries and Galloway||94.2||94.5||94.2||93.6||93.2|
|Na h-Eileanan Siar||93.9||94.9||95.2||94.0||93.7|
|Perth and Kinross||94.0||93.9||93.6||93.3||91.9|
(1) Includes the mainstream grant-aided school, Jordanhill, only. Grant-aided special schools are not included in this collection.
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