Truant pupils miss 3.7m school days
Around 3.7 million school days were missed last autumn as pupils skipped lessons without permission, official figures show.
On a typical day in autumn 2011, around 55,600 youngsters missed class through truancy, according to an analysis of Government statistics.
Around 48,000 children missed a month or more of lessons, making them "persistent absentees".
Figures published by the Department for Education (DfE) show that the truancy, or unauthorised absence rate, for state primary and secondary schools in England for the autumn term of last year stood at 0.9%.
This is around the same as the same term in 2010, when the rate stood at one percent.
In primary schools alone, the truancy rate for last autumn was 0.6%, while in secondaries it was 1.2%.
In total, pupils missed 19.5 million school days as the overall absence rate fell from 6.1% in autumn 2010 to 4.7% for the same term last year, the statistics show.
Ministers said that the fall in the overall rate was down to less children taking time off due to illness, and fewer pupils going on holiday during term time.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that a child's academic achievement "suffers permanently" when they miss a substantial amount of term.
"Today's figures show a welcome fall in absence due to lower levels of illness last year and a fall in the number of children taking time off to go on holiday," he said.
"Such absence is still a problem but it is clear that more head teachers are refusing simply to wave through parents' requests to take their children out of school for term time holidays.
"And increasingly parents understand the damage that can be caused to a child's education from missing even a day or two of school."
Illness is still the most common reason for pupils taking time off, accounting for 58.5% of half days missed.
But there has been a drop in absence for this reason - in autumn 2010 around 15.2 million days were missed due to sickness but for the same term last year it was 11.4 million days, according to the DfE.
The department added that figures from the Health Protection Agency show there were lower levels of flu-like illnesses last winter compared to previous years, which may account for the drop.
The figures also show that family holidays are still the second most common reason for pupils taking time off, accounting for 11.3% of absence overall.
In total, 2.2 million days were missed last autumn due to holidays, compared to 2.5 million in autumn 2010.
Charlie Taylor, the Government's behaviour tsar, has called for a crackdown on term time holidays, warning that youngsters who regularly have time off can end up missing a year of schooling by the time they reach 16.
Launching his review of school attendance in April, Mr Taylor also suggested that parents can be overzealous in keeping their child off sick and should send them to school if they have the sniffles.
Mr Taylor said schools must do more to teach parents about the importance of good attendance and to pick up those who are falling into "bad habits".
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