EPI reports ‘disturbing’ number of unexplained pupil exits

26th April 2019

The publication, “Unexplained Pupils Exits from Schools: A Growing Problem?”, analysed three data sets (2006-11 cohort, 2009-14 cohort and 2012-17 cohort) in order to understand which groups of pupils are most likely to leave school without explanation.

The report found that 330 schools – just 6% of secondary and special schools overall – were responsible for 23% of unexplained exits from the state sector. Each of these schools had seen at least 30 pupils leave without explanation between 2011 and 2017.

SEND students accounted for over half of the 19,000 pupils with unexplained exits in 2016/17 and pupils in receipt of free school meals (FSM) were also over-represented within this group.

David Laws, EPI Executive Chairman, said the “size of unexplained pupil moves is disturbing”.

The analysis of the cohort data excludes pupils who leave school with explanation, such as those who are permanently excluded or for family reasons, such as when a parent is in the military.

The report found that the 2006-11 cohort had 47,225 pupils whose absences were unexplained, while the 2009-14 cohort had 49,051. While the overall total was higher it actually reflects a slight decrease in percentage terms from 7.8% to 7.2% due to the number of pupils in the cohorts .

However, the percentage increased to 8.1% among the 2011-17 cohort, with a total of 55,309 pupils who had exited mainstream schooling without explanation.

The report suggested that pupils with a high number of authorised absences were more likely than any other group to have unexplained exits. The number was also high among pupils who had been in contact with the care system, as well as those who had a history of exclusion (either permanent or for a fixed period).

However, deprivation was not a major driver in the report’s findings. Schools with the highest number of pupils in deprivation were not those which had the most unexplained exits: this was attributed to schools within the middle of the disadvantage distribution.

It also highlighted that some other factors, such as sex and the time of year a pupil is born, do not appear to have any bearing on whether or not they leave school without explanation.

A full copy of the report is available from the Education Policy Institute. The report also invites feedback. Consultation questions and contact information can be found at the end of the report. Responses to the consultation are due back, by email, before the 18th May deadline.