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How often do your kids get sick?

I had another day at home with a sick kid today and it got me thinking about school attendance records.

Those with kids know that prolonged absences from school can really affect their academic performance. But we rarely hear about the flow on effect of sick kids for the broader family. I’ve got four fantastic and healthy kids which I’m grateful for everyday. But even they get sick occasionally, and never on the same day. From my own selfish perspective these unplanned ‘family’ days seem to come at the most inconvenient time. Rather than be frustrated by unplanned family days, I thought I should look into the data and work out how many I should expect each year.

The data:

The Queensland State Government publishes the collective school attendance records and reasons for absence ( I looked at this data from 2008 – 2012 across 14 regions across all thirteen school years (from prepatory year to year 12). Illness account for about 34% of missed school, other categories are unexplained (35%), Other (18%), Holiday(9%), Unauthorised (2%) and Disciplinary (2%). In terms of school attendance I have only considered non-attendance due to illness. Across all 14 regions there was a total possible number of attendance days of 224,625,684 for this period (2008-2012) – a pretty good sized data set. The overall non-attendance due to illness was 3.2% of the time or 6.4 days per year. This varied slightly between non-indigenous (6.1 days) and indigenous (6.6 days) children. So if my four kids have an average number of sick days (and don’t collude on when they take them), then I should expect to have around 24 unplanned family days per year. That is a lot – that is almost five weeks a year of unplanned time away from the office. Although on the positive, it is five weeks of one-on-one time with my kids watching animated movies.


Figure 1: Sick days across school year levels


Maybe my kids will get sick less as they get older. A 5th order polynomial model fitted to sick days across school year levels provides a pretty good fit (Figure 1). In lower school (preparatory year to year 7) kids do seem to decrease in sickness as they get older, however, teenagers seem to be more sickly up to year 10 (about 15 years old), then attendance improves a little for the final two years. Looking at the breakdown by the year levels of my kids I’ve got to just suck it up for the next five years (Figure 2) and consider myself a winner if I have anything less than five weeks worth of unplanned family days.


Figure 2: My predicted unplanned family days over the coming years.


Another interesting feature of this data set is to have a look at the how the breakdown in reasons for school absence changes with year level (Figure 3). Their does seem to be slightly more illness related absence for the first three years of school, and then things seem pretty much constant across the remainder of primary school (year 2-year 7) . However, once kids hit high school (year 8) the overall absenteeism increased, and this includes all reasons. Maybe it is simply explained by the difficult teenage years.


Figure 3: Percentage of school missed by reason (Queensland Public Schools-2008-2012, from 225,000,000 school days)


This data set is now included in the sample data set for you to explore.

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