Testing blamed for rise in primary school truancy

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The Independent Online

Truancy rates have soared to a record level, government figures show. A total of 1,399,197 pupils, one in five of all state school children, skipped lessons last year ­ a rise of 433,797 in 10 years.

Some 0.79 per cent of all half days of school missed by pupils were due to unauthorised absences ­ the highest since national statistics were first collected 13 years ago.

This is despite nearly £1bn being spent on government initiatives to tackle the problem ­ including threats to jail the parents of persistent offenders.

Yesterday's figures, up 0.01 per cent from last year, show the rise was entirely accounted for by an increase in primary school children skipping lessons. The percentage of half days lost by pupils aged 5 to 11 rose by 0.43 per cent to 0.46 per cent, the equivalent of an extra 1,050 children a day truanting from primary schools.

Figures for truancy in secondary schools actually went down by 0.01 per cent ­ largely as a result of a government drive to concentrate on improving attendance at the 200 state schools with the worst record, an initiative that has cut truancy in the targeted schools by 27 per cent.

However, it was being pointed out last night, that if the worst offenders were being lured back into school, it made the overall rise in truancy even more worrying.

Teachers' leaders and opposition MPs claimed pupils were being " disenfranchised" from school by the Government's insistence on sticking to its current testing regime. "Pupil disaffection is certainly part of the issue," said Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

"Primary school pupils as well as secondary are extremely stressed and some quite disenfranchised from their school because of the high stakes testing the Government is insisting upon."

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: "At this young age it is likely that parental connivance in truanting is a factor. Parents need to live up to their responsibility to ensure that children attend school. They must not take their children out of school for holidays or shopping expeditions.

"Allowing a pattern of truancy to develop in primary schools could easily feed through into secondary education further damaging the children's life chances. Truanting children are on the streets and at risk."

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, said of the figures: "I think that the main reason, particularly for teenagers, is that they are not learning what they want to learn."

The schools minister, Jim Knight, welcomed the fall in the rate of unauthorised absences in secondary schools. But he said the priority must continue to be a targeting of the minority of pupils that account for a considerable proportion of overall absences. Ministers plan to extend their targeting of schools to the feeder primary schools that send pupils to the 200 secondaries with the worst records.

Research shows that just 1 per cent of secondary school pupils ­ 35,000 in number ­ account for more than a third of all truancy in secondary schools.

"More than two thirds of pupils with unauthorised absences miss five days or fewer," Mr Knight said. "But it is disappointing that, at the other end of the scale, a stubborn minority of pupils remain determined to jeopardise their education."