Truancy soars in primary schools

Truancy in England's state primary schools reached record levels last year, official figures show.

Primary age pupils missed 0.67% of school sessions due to "unauthorised absence" in 2009/10 - almost a 5% increase on 2008/09, when it stood at 0.64%.

The overall truancy rate for all schools in England dropped marginally to 1.04%, from 1.05% the year before, according to statistics published by the Department for Education.

But this is still a 42% increase on 1996-97, when the truancy rate was 0.73%.

Around 66,000 pupils of all ages skipped school sessions without permission on a typical day in 2009/10 through truancy, family holidays, illness and other reasons, an analysis of the figures suggests.

While truancy rates in primaries rose again this year, the levels in state secondaries dropped.

"Unauthorised absence" stood at 1.45% in secondaries in 2009/10, compared to 1.49% in 2008/09.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that despite the "welcome" drop in secondary schools, absenteeism is "still too high".

"We know that children who are absent for substantial parts of their education fall behind their peers and can struggle to catch up," he said.

The Government's Education Bill will "put teachers back in control of the classroom so pupils can learn without disruption and teachers have more power to tackle truancy", Mr Gibb said.

"Reducing truancy rates is critical to our objective of closing the attainment gap between those from poorer and wealthier backgrounds."

The figures show that "authorised absence" rates stood at 5% last year, down from 5.21% in 2008/09.

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

Family holidays were the second most commonly reported reason for absence, accounting for 0.56% of days missed.

Of these days, one in four were not authorised by the school.

The most common reason for absence is still illness, the figures show.

Overall, a primary school pupil missed just under eight days of school on average in 2009/10, while a secondary school pupil missed around 10 days on average and a special school pupil missed just over 14 days.

Just 6.38% of all pupils missed no time off school in 2009/10.

The statistics also reveal that tens of thousands of pupils are still skipping a fifth of school sessions, making them "persistent absentees".

Across all state schools, 184,020 pupils were classed as persistent absentees in 2009/10, down from 208,380 in 2008/09.

There were 47,510 persistent absentees in primaries in 2009/10, 128,210 in secondary schools and 8,300 in special schools.

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