Truancy hits record levels

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The Independent Online

Truancy in England's schools rose to record levels last year, official statistics showed today.

Pupils missed 1.05% of school sessions due to "unauthorised absence" in 2008-09 - a 4% rise from 1.01% in 2007-08, according to figures published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).

This was a 44% rise on 1996-97, when the truancy rate was 0.73%.

The statistics show a jump in truancy rates in primary schools, with pupils missing 0.64% of all half days, a 12% increase on the previous year, when the figure stood at 0.57%.

Unauthorised absence in state secondary schools remained static at 1.49%.

It means that around 67,000 pupils of all ages skipped school sessions without permission on a typical day through truancy, family holidays, illness and other reasons, an analysis of the statistics suggests.

"Authorised absence" rates dropped to 5.21% in 2008/09, down from 5.28% in 2007/08.

Today's statistics will raise fresh concerns that parents are taking pupils out of school during term time to take advantage of cheap deals for family holidays.

Over the two terms, absence for family holidays accounted for 8% of absent half days - absences which were approved by the school.

A further 1.92% of family holidays were not approved by schools.

It means family holidays are the second most commonly reported reason for pupils missing lessons.

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: "Overall absence has again fallen to a record low. Every day over 70,000 more pupils are now in school than would be the case if absence rates were still at the level of 1996/97.

"Schools are, quite rightly, cracking down on absence. Weak excuses for missing school, such as over-sleeping or a day's holiday, are no longer accepted - so it's no surprise that with this tougher approach there is a slight rise in unauthorised absence.

"Persistent absentees account for just under a fifth of all absences - so it's right that heads now target them relentlessly and that numbers of the highest absentees are being cut."

The statistics also reveal that hundreds of thousands of pupils are still skipping more than five weeks of school, making them "persistent absentees".

Across the school year, 208,380 primary and secondary pupils missed more than 20% of all possible half days, a total of 52 sessions, or 26 days.

Of these, 51,960 were in primary schools and 147,630 were at secondaries. The rest were attending special schools.

Mr Coaker said it was "ultimately down to parents" to ensure their child was in school.

"Parents have a clear duty to ensure that their child is in school and are not simply allowing them to miss their education," he said.

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws said: "These figures are disgraceful. Despite Tony Blair promising to get a grip on this problem more than a decade ago, truancy levels have rocketed.

"It's obvious that Labour's top-down approach has failed. We need a more effective local approach involving parents, schools and the police."