Parents are blamed for pupils' lost school days

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Parents were blamed for encouraging their children to skip school yesterday after it was revealed that five million classroom days had been lost during the past year.

Too many were failing to show any respect for their school's code of discipline and this had led to a drop in attendance figures for the first time in years, said Mike Tomlinson, the chief schools inspector.

His annual report published yesterday also showed that 10,000 youngsters – mainly 14 to 16-year-olds – were "missing" from the education system altogether and were not on the records of any school. They could be committing crime, taking part in the black economy or simply staying at home all day, said Mr Tomlinson.

The figures showed one million of the five million days were caused by truancy – but the rest was absence condoned by parents which includes taking children out of school for holidays during term time. Police patrols of shopping centres showed more than 80 per cent of children out of school were accompanied by an adult.

The Government announced last night it was speeding up the issuing of orders which can force attendance at parenting classes. "Too many parents don't understand the damage they do to children's education by taking them out of school," Estelle Morris, Secretary of State for Education said.

Mr Tomlinson said in his report: "Schools, and in particular, teachers need and deserve better support from some parents. Many schools are finding it ever more difficult to impose a code of discipline which is supported by all parents." David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "There are clear signs that too many parents care little about the behaviour of their children."

The report did, however, show teaching standards in state schools were at their highest level ever. Nine out of ten schools had shown improvements in standards. Less than 4 per cent of lessons in primary schools were now judged to be unsatisfactory. In secondary schools the figure was down to 4 per cent from 30 per cent a decade ago.

However, it warned teacher shortages were making schools increasingly reliant on supply teachers who were of poorer quality than full-time staff.

Mr Tomlinson said there were 19,000 supply teachers in UK schools and they were four times more likely to deliver lessons of poor quality in secondary schools and twice as likely to deliver unsatisfactory teaching in primary schools.

"Some pupils have a succession of supply teachers or teachers without sufficient expertise," the report added.

* The Department of Trade and Industry is to launch an investigation into TimePlan, the private teaching agency which ignored a warning that one of its supply teachers "may pose a risk to children".

Amy Gehring, a 26-year-old teacher from Canada, was found not guilty of four charges of indecently assaulting boys, aged 15 and 14, at Guildford Crown Court on Monday.