By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website
The number of secondary pupils in England playing truant at some point has gone up 40% over the past five years, official figures reveal.
Steadily more pupils appear to be turned off school
They show that in the 2001-02 school year, 566,644 pupils were absent at some point without permission, which was 18.9% of all pupils.
This has risen steadily and last year 794,877 were absent without permission at some point, 26.5% of the total.
The average length of time away has fallen, from 17 half-days to 14.
The trend is also apparent in primary schools, though the increase has been less marked.
In 2001-02, 15.2% of primary pupils were absent without authorisation at some point - on average for nine half-day sessions.
Again the figure has risen steadily, to 17.3% in 2005-06, on average for eight half-days.
The statistics were presented differently prior to 2001-02.
The fact that more than a quarter of all secondary school pupils took time off last year casts a different light on the government's claim that much of the problem of truancy is down to a small minority of "hardcore miscreants".
Schools Minister Jim Knight said: "More than two-thirds of pupils with unauthorised absence miss five days or fewer.
"But it is disappointing that, at the other end of the scale, a stubborn
minority of pupils remain determined to jeopardise their education and their
futures by missing very significant amounts of their schooling."
Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the rise in the numbers of children playing truant was unacceptable.
"We need to focus on the causes of truancy and disaffection - mixed ability teaching, poor discipline and low levels of reading ability.
"That is why the Conservative Party is committed to setting children by ability, to greater discipline within schools, and to raising standards of literacy through a greater emphasis on synthetic phonics."