School truancy rate rises

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The Independent Online

Truancy rates soared this spring with more families taking their children out of school for unauthorised holidays, figures revealed today.

Tonight teachers’ leaders said they believed that the recession was to blame - prompting more parents to seek cheaper holidays during term-time.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the economic squeeze led to it “becoming more difficult for headteachers to dissuade parents from family holidays during term-time”.

Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers, added that people’s confidence in keeping their jobs had been “sapped” by the recession which led to them seeking cheaper breaks.

“There is a greater mood of caution amongst people about spending on travel,” he added.

Overall, absence for family holidays to the loss of 1.6 million school days in the spring term - accounting for 1.5 per cent of all unauthorised absences compared with 1.2 per cent last year.

The overall truancy rate went up, too, from one per cent in 2008 to 1.1 per cent this year - accounting for more than 17.8 million days’ school being skipped.

The rise was more marked in primary schools going up from 0.56 per cent to 0.67 per cent 9an extra 400,000 days being lost). In secondary schools, the figure rose from 1.51 per cent to 1.59 per cent.

Overall, absence figures – including those authorised by the head - went down 6.26 per cent to 6.18 per cent prompting claims that headteachers were getting tougher on calls from parents to allow their children to be off school.

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: “Schools are listening to our calls to query dubious reasons given by parents for absence and allow fewer children to miss schools for holidays.

“Our message is getting across to schools and parents that every lesson counts for children. We will continue to do all we can to support efforts to drive absence down still further.”

However, David Laws, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesman, added; “These figures are a disgrace. The Government’s truancy strategies are not working.

“It is worrying that there has been a rise in the number of children missing school because of unauthorised holidays. Parents should not be removing their children from school without permission from their teachers.”

Nick Gibb, for the Conservatives, said: “Children need to be in the classroom learning if they are to get the education that they need to succeed later on.

“The Government has spent £1bn on truancy but the problem has increased over the last few years with almost 70,000 children now missing school every day.

“persistent absenteeism and truancy are linked to low levels of literacy and numeracy. Tackling the epidemic of reading and maths failure early in primary school is crucial.”

The most commonly reported reason for illness other than medical or dental appointments which accounted for around two-thirds of all absence.