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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 October 2007, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Pupil absences reopen controversy
group of teenagers in street
The figures are now reported by schools on a termly basis
The government has denied a Tory charge that it has dropped targets for reducing truancy in England's schools.

Combined figures for autumn and spring terms last year showed an overall absence rate of 7.76% of the possible half-day sessions in secondary schools.

This was down from 8.16% on 2005-06. In primaries the rate was 5.26%, with no equivalent previous year's data.

The Tories say national targets for tackling truancy have gone. Ministers say local authorities have targets.

Overall absence is now the government's preferred way of looking at the issue, rather than splitting it into authorised and unauthorised absences.

Unauthorised absence in secondary schools rose from 1.41% in 2005-06 to 1.46% in the latest figures.

The new absence statistics combine those for the autumn 2006 and spring 2007 terms which were first published and reported a few weeks ago.

'Scrapped'

The Opposition seized on the fact that the latest set of public service agreements between the Treasury and the schools department no longer set targets for reducing truancy.

Shadow children's secretary Michael Gove said: "The government have failed to get to grips with rising truancy.

"But instead of working harder to meet their target they have simply scrapped it."

He said measures that could be introduced included home-school contracts and giving schools more power to enforce proper discipline.

But Young People's Minister Kevin Brennan said: "This is nonsense. By law every local authority must have a local target and report to me about their performance in tackling truancy.

"We are actually intensifying our efforts by insisting that all local authorities get tough on persistent absentees."

Mr Brennan also said: "Our figures show that 75,000 more pupils were in school each day on average during the first two terms of last academic year compared to the annual average a decade ago - which shows our policies are working."

But the Liberal Democrats said the equivalent of more than two million extra school days were lost last year due to truancy compared with 1997.

Spokesman David Laws said: "The government¿s attempts to curb truancy have been nothing more than empty rhetoric."

Perspectives

The deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Martin Ward, said the increase in unauthorised absences showed schools were getting tougher.

But he said the Office for National Statistics had made it clear that the reliable and useful figure was the total absence rate.

"It is a mistake to refer to unauthorised absence as 'truancy' since this figure includes the many holidays taken in term time, which remains a major problem for schools," he said.

"Also in this figure are the absences of a small number of persistent absentees, whose parents certainly know of the situation but are either unable or unwilling to get them to school."

Chris Keates of the NASUWT teachers' union said the adverse impact of frequent absence on teachers¿ workload was often underestimated.

"Schools and local authorities should be congratulated for the work they have done.

"It is important to recognise that most pupils attend school regularly and punctually.

"However, it is clear that there is still more work to be done to address some specific issues."

SEE ALSO
Term-time holidays fuel absences
11 Sep 07 |  Education
Academies expel far more pupils
13 Jul 07 |  Education
School truancy worse than thought
29 Mar 07 |  Education
More and more pupils play truant
21 Sep 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

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