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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 September 2006, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
More primary age pupils truanting
graph showing absences since 1997
The trend under Labour's various efforts to crack the problem
More primary school pupils have been playing truant from England's schools, latest official figures reveal.

This meant an increase in the overall rate of unauthorised absence last year to a record level, though in secondary schools it fell slightly.

Overall, the percentage of half day sessions missed by pupils was 6.68%: 5.89% of which was authorised and 0.79% unauthorised - the worst it has been.

The government promised to keep up the pressure on schools to do better.

Breakdown

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) statistics count the school year absences only up to 26 May.

They showed that in state primary schools, unauthorised absence increased by almost 7% from the previous year's final figure, from 0.43% to 0.46% of half day sessions.

In state secondary schools it fell, by less than 1%, from 1.23% to 1.22%.

Authorised absences - which include holidays in term-time and sickness - rose by 6% in primary schools from 5% to 5.3% of half days.

In secondary schools authorised absences also rose, although not as markedly: from 6.58% to 6.7%.

These were the first rises in authorised absences since 2001. Ministers have been ordering schools to clamp down on permitting term-time holidays.

By law, pupils can be granted absence of up to 10 days a year.

The DfES said the extra absences were due in large part to severe outbreaks of influenza and "winter vomiting bug" during the winter months.

Schools Minister Jim Knight vowed to keep up the pressure on schools and local authorities to improve attendance.

Steve Sinnott of the National Union of teachers said: "The increase in the proportion of primary pupils truanting has to be nipped in the bud.

"At this young age it is likely that parental connivance in truanting is a factor.

"Parents ... must not take their children out of school for holidays or shopping expeditions."

Targeting

MPs and the National Audit Office have said that despite the millions of pounds spent on truancy initiatives, the problem has remained stubbornly hard to crack.

police and welfare officer check on flat
In some areas truants are chased up at home
But the Department for Education and Skills will be stressing that efforts to tackle persistent truancy by relatively few pupils can pay off.

It has been focusing on 200 schools where pupils took more than 20 days out of school without permission across a year.

Parents were put on a "Fast Track to Attendance" scheme with an automatic court prosecution unless their child's attendance improved within 12 weeks.

Reduction

Each family was given special support in tackling its difficulties.

Edmonton County School in Enfield, north-west London, reduced its 40 persistent truants last year to just four.

And nationally, the 200 schools have managed to achieve a total reduction of 27% of numbers of persistent truants - equivalent to some 3,500 pupils, the department said.

Even so, the statistics underline the fact that truancy is not only something caused by a hardcore minority.

Across the country as a whole, more than a quarter of secondary school pupils are absent without permission at some point during the year.

And this has got steadily worse over recent years, with more and more children being absent at some point.

'Small minority'

The general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, John Dunford, said the latest figures were "disappointing and frustrating".

"Schools are putting an incredible amount of effort in to keeping students in school and dealing firmly with those who truant, in the knowledge that students who are not at school are not learning and are compromising their own futures," he said.

But they were not helped by a small minority of students who were "serial truants", often with their parents' knowledge.

"Schools cannot solve this problem in isolation. They need parents' co-operation and support to keep students from truanting and to deal effectively with those that do."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
A headteacher's views on how to tackle truancy



SEE ALSO
Primary school truancy crackdown
28 May 06 |  Education
Truancy levels 'under-estimated'
06 Sep 05 |  Education
Truants 'missing half a term'
01 Aug 05 |  Education
Truancy rate falls slightly
17 Sep 03 |  Education
Parents hit with truanting fines
24 Jun 05 |  Education
Teenage truancy increases sharply
21 Sep 05 |  Education

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