Pupils in England take fewer days off school
Pupils in England's schools took fewer days off school last year, Department for Education data shows.
The absence rate in maintained primary and secondary schools fell slightly to 5% in the autumn and spring of 2011-12 from 5.8% the previous year.
Statisticians said the fall was due to fewer days taken off sick and to the fact that the Muslim festival of Eid fell outside term time.
At 0.9%, unauthorised absence (truancy) was down from 1% the year before.
This is the equivalent of about 56,500 pupils skipping school without permission each day.
The fall in overall absence levels is largely down to autumn term absence being "substantially lower" than the same term in previous years, statisticians said.
End Quote Department for Edcation report
Eid fell out of term time, which may explain some of the relatively large fall in absence for religious observance”
They suggested there were a number of factors for this, including a decrease in absence for sickness.
"Figures from the Health Protection Agency show substantially lower levels of flu-like illness around autumn 2011 than in previous years," the government's report 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."Free school meals
The figures also showed 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."