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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September, 2003, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Truancy rate falls slightly
There has been a small improvement in the truancy rate in England's schools.

Graph showing unauthorised absence
The % rate has changed little in recent years
Figures just released show that the rate of unauthorised absence in 2002-03 was 0.71%, an improvement of 0.01 percentage points on the previous year.

Although a tiny percentage, the education department makes the point that about 50,000 children are not in school on any given day - and apart from not learning are likely to be up to no good.

The new figures suggest about 700 fewer children were not skipping school each day - in a year when ministers attached huge importance to tackling the problem.

Education Minister Ivan Lewis said: "This is equivalent to almost an entire secondary school back in education daily.

"And more pupils are attending school overall, with 133 of 150 local education authorities reporting an improvement in attendance at secondary level."

ABSENCES (CHANGE FROM LAST YEAR)
Government anti-truancy campaign
PRIMARY SCHOOLS
Authorised: 5.39% (- 0.01)
Unauthorised: 0.43% (- 0.02)
Total: 5.82% (- 0.03)
SECONDARY SCHOOLS
Authorised: 7.21% (- 0.42)
Unauthorised: 1.08% (- 0.01)
Total: 8.29% (- 0.43)
Source: DfES

But more still had to be done, he said.

"The causes of truancy are complex and challenging, and today's figures show a welcome change in absence rates that have remained largely unchanged since records began in 1994.

"We are delivering the first sustained national strategy to deal with the problem, and I am hopeful that our behaviour and attendance strategy will contribute to a greater improvement in attendance rates for the current academic year.

"But parents and schools must join with us to make sure that every day in school counts."

Family holidays

The new statistics do not relate to individual children, however. What they show is the "percentages of half days missed " in the 2002/2003 school year up to and including 23 May.

Half days are counted because pupils are registered twice a day - for the morning and afternoon sessions.

Ministers have also appealed to parents not to exercise their right to take children out of school for up to 10 days a year, for instance for family holidays.

The figures show that authorised absences - where schools gave permission for children to be away - were running at 6.13%, 0.17 of a percentage point better than the year before.

And the change means that the key rate of unauthorised absence is still worse than it was when Labour came to power.

In 1996-97 the figure was 0.7%, and it has fluctuated up and down a little each year since.

Labour had aimed to reduce it by a third.

The shadow education secretary, Damian Green, said this was another failure by the government to meet its own targets on education - despite having spent more than 600m on truancy initiatives since 1997.

"Around 50,000 children are truanting on every school day and it is clear that for too many children what they learn at school is just not relevant," he said.

"Ministerial initiatives and large sums of taxpayers' money are visibly failing to solve this crisis. We need reform of the curriculum especially to strengthen vocational and technical learning."

Private schools worsening

In maintained schools, the average number of half days missed by pupils without permission was 15 in secondary schools and eight in primaries.

Of all pupils, more than a fifth of those in secondary school - 21% - were absent without authorisation at some stage. Fifteen per cent of primary school pupils were away.

The total figures include independent schools.

There, the rate of unauthorised absence is tiny - 0.11% or about 420 pupils - but did rise markedly last year. For the previous six years it had been 0.08% or 0.09%.

And the rate of authorised absence has gone up steadily between 1996-97 and last year from 3.64% to 4.02%.




SEE ALSO:
Truancy crackdown 'paying off'
02 Jul 03  |  Education
Q&A: Truancy 'fast track'
26 Feb 03  |  Education
Family holiday 'truants' targeted
23 Feb 03  |  Education
Heads could fine parents of truants
12 Dec 02  |  Education


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