Truancy rate 'falls to 5%'

 

Pupils missed fewer lessons last year as children took less time off sick, official figures suggest.

The absence rate in England's state primary and secondary schools fell slightly to 5%, according to Government data.

Statisticians said the drop was down to a fall in pupils taking time off for illness - the most common reason for absence.

At the same time, the Muslim holiday Eid fell outside of term time, which could account for a drop in absence for "religious observance" reasons, they said.

But the figures do still show that around 56,500 pupils were missing from lessons without permission on a typical day last year.

The figures show that the overall absence rate for the autumn term of 2011 and spring term of 2012 was 5%, down from 5.8% for the same two terms the academic year before.

The truancy - or unauthorised absence rate - stood at 0.9% of half days missed in autumn and spring 2011/12, down slightly from 1% the year before - equivalent to around 56,500 pupils skipping school without permission each day.

The fall in overall absence levels is largely down to absence in the autumn term being "substantially lower" than in the same term in previous years, statisticians said.

A report on the figures said that there were a number of factors for this, including a decrease in absence for illness reasons.

"Figures from the Health Protection Agency show substantially lower levels of flu-like illness around autumn 2011 than in previous years," it said.

"Similarly, the proportion of calls to NHS Direct relating to colds/flu and fever was very low last winter compared with the previous year.

"This may explain some of the decrease in absence through illness."

It added: "Eid fell out of term time, which may explain some of the relatively large fall in absence for religious observance."

Earlier this year, Charlie Taylor, then the Government's behaviour tsar, suggested that parents could be "trigger happy" in keeping their child off sick and should send them to school if they had the sniffles.

"Some parents think they're being a good parent by keeping their child off school, but actually sometimes they can be a bit trigger happy, particularly with young parents and young children," he said.

Parents needed to be helped to understand the difference between "a bit of a sniffle" and an illness that required children to stay at home, Mr Taylor said.

The latest figures also showed that 310,435 pupils were considered "persistent absentees" - missing at least 19 days of school.

Of these, 115,295 were primary school pupils, the figures showed.

Some 10.6% of pupils who were eligible for free school meals - a key measure of poverty - were considered "persistent absentees" compared to 3.7% of their classmates who were not eligible.

Barnardo's director of strategy Janet Grauberg said: "The current school system is failing the poorest, most of whose absences are authorised, suggesting they are more likely to be ill or have caring responsibilities at home, for example.

"They can't be written off as playing truant.

"Schools need to do more to find the root causes for such a stark imbalance between the numbers of poor children missing valuable lesson time and their classmates."

PA

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