Are Fewer Pupil Bunking Off, Really?

The DCSF has released school pupil absence data "presented as emerging findings (based on provisional data)" that seem to show slightly reduced unauthorised absence rates during the recent Spring Term, down to 1.00% from 1.06%. The reasons given for publishing emerging findings are "to help planning, to study trends and to monitor outcomes of initiatives and interventions on pupil attendance."

The data as presented, naturally, do not even remotely meet this worthy aim as they are collected together under a few broad headings. There is no attempt to report on any controlled tests of any of these initiatives, so no judgements can be made for them. But, surely, a drop in the gross absence figures should be welcomed?

No. Since the data is reported publicly on a school by school basis and included in the league tables, the collection of this data is contaminated. The data collectors, the schools themselves, benefit from improvements in the data, so small reported drops are just that. Reported. In a previous position I have myself been instructed by the headteacher to change absences marked in my form's register from unauthorised (i.e. skiving) to authorised, to make the school figures look better.

It is high time that government stopped measuring the education by measuring every student all the time. Any sensible industry would be making random samples for overall judgements: cheaper, reliable and immune to fiddling by schools.

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