Education & Family

Autumn term truancy in England highest since 2006

Teenagers in street
Image caption No clear reasons are given for the majority of unauthorised absences

The autumn-term truancy rate in England's state schools in 2010 reached a five-year high, although overall absences continued to decrease.

Government statistics showed unauthorised absence rose from 0.93% of half-days missed in autumn 2009 to 1.04% in 2010.

Some of the rise, but not all, was due to an increase in the number of family holidays not agreed by schools.

But a fall in secondary-school absences means the overall figure has dropped.

The last government said schools were cracking down on "weak excuses", which meant more pupils were missing school without permission.

The unauthorised absences figure for autumn 2010 is the highest in the five years since the government began to collect termly data.

No clear reasons were given for the majority of cases, although about 17% were due to family holidays and 6% were classed as pupils arriving late.

The rise is mainly driven by primary school unauthorised absences, which have risen from 0.48% of half-days in autumn 2006 to 0.75% in 2010.

'Literacy link'

During that period, the proportion of unauthorised absences that were due to unagreed family holidays rose from 8% to 17%.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said absenteeism "is still too high".

"Truancy is often linked to poor literacy skills - that's why we are focusing on improving reading with synthetic phonics," he said.

"Our Education Bill puts teachers back in control of the classroom so pupils can be taught without disruption and teachers have more power to tackle truancy."

The main reason for authorised absence was illness (60%), followed by medical and dental appointments (5%) and agreed family holiday (7%).

Overall absence in autumn 2010 (6.1% of half-days) was higher than in autumn 2006 (5.9%), but is down from a peak in 2008 (6.4%).

There were also nearly 27,000 pupils classed as "persistent absentees", having missed more than 64 half days of school - although this figure has dropped from 48,000 in 2006.

'Easy-fix discipline'

Children's charity Barnardo's said the latest figures were a sign the school system was "failing somewhere".

Assistant director of policy and research Louise Bamfield said: "Throwing more robust discipline and punishment at absenteeism is misdirected.

"The root causes of a child's impulse to flee the classroom, which often lie outside school, also need to be addressed."

"The government needs to think beyond easy-fix discipline which treats the symptoms and not the cause."

The previous government also tried to clamp down on truancy, and parents have been prosecuted for letting their children miss school.

When Labour came to power in 1997, the annual rate of unauthorised absence was about 0.7% - a constant figure since 1994.

School absence figures for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are published separately.

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