He Whakaaro: What is the relationship between attendance and attainment?

Publication Details

School attendance is the most crucial prerequisite for quality education - students cannot learn if they are not in school. Attendance is included as a key educational measure of wellbeing in the government’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy (DPMC, 2019), and Indicators Aotearoa New Zealand (Statistics NZ, 2019). Attendance is an important indicator of student wellbeing, engagement in learning, and connection to school in its own right. But attendance is also a key driver of learning outcomes. Previous research has established that there is a strong relationship between attendance and student attainment (Gottfried, 2010; Ministry of Education, 2019a). This paper explores the nature of that relationship in more detail.

Author(s): Andrew Webber, Education, Data and Knowledge, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: February 2020


School attendance is a key measure of student engagement and wellbeing. Previous research has also found that it is strongly linked with student attainment. This paper describes the nature of this relationship across a range of year levels and attainment outcomes, and investigates whether this relationship looks different for different student groups or different types of absences.

Key findings

The report finds:

  • The overall relationship between attendance and attainment can be best described by a straight line, especially at attendance rates over about 70 percent.
  • The first 1.5 days of justified absence across Term 2 is the only ‘safe’ level of non-attendance (where there is a minimal impact on a student’s attainment) we could find evidence for.
  • This implies that any other absence from school is associated with substantially lower attainment - that is, every day matters.
  • The first few unjustified absences in a term are associated with the largest drops in attainment.
  • Attendance is more strongly related to attainment at higher year levels (particularly NCEA), and for mathematics, as opposed to reading.
  • For some student groups (like students in low decile schools), attendance appears to be particularly important.

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