Page last updated at 11:26 GMT, Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Truancy rate 'highest since 1997'

group of teenagers in street
Almost a billion has been spent on anti-truancy drives

Truancy rates in England's schools are at their highest since 1997, the latest figures show.

An estimated 63,000 pupils truanted every day, equating to 1% of all school sessions missed without a valid reason.

This is also a rise of a quarter, or 0.21 of a percentage point, on comparable figures from last year which were 0.79%.

The government has written to local authorities urging them to keep up the pressure on persistent absenteeism.

Working with schools and local authorities we need to do much more
Kevin Brennan
Children's minister

Between 2004 and 2007 over 30,000 penalty notices were issued to parents because of their child's high level of unauthorised absence.

And more than 19,000 parenting contracts were agreed to improve attendance, ministers said.

Children's minister Kevin Brennan said the rise in truancy rates could be partly down to the efforts being made to tackle it.

As head teachers "get tougher" on truants, more instances of absenteeism are categorised as unauthorised rather than authorised as fewer excuses are accepted, he argued.

"Dubious absences are now being rigorously queried rather than overlooked as they may have been a decade ago," he added.

He also argued that unauthorised absence did not equate to truancy as it included includes lateness, term-time holidays and flimsy excuses.


Overall absence, including children off sick with permission, has fallen. It fell overall from 6.68% to 6.49% between 2006 and 2007.

"We're on course to meet our 2008 target of reducing absence by 8% compared to 2002/3 figures," said Mr Brennan.

"But working with schools and local authorities we need to do much more.

"While we have cut the amount of persistent absence - from 7.1% to 6.7 % - in the last year it is still the major challenge we must tackle.

"About 7% of pupils account for a third of all absence in secondary schools but the evidence shows that targeting is working, with 436 schools with the biggest share of persistent absence having reduced it by almost 20 per cent in a year," he added.

'More excuses'

For the first time this year, more details of why pupils are absent are contained in the figures.

Although head teachers are not required to give a reason, the Department for Children, Families and Schools said nine out of 10 did.

Within the overall absence rate of 6.49%, just under half - 3.47% - of days were due to illness.

The second most commonly reported reason was family holidays - which includes those agreed and not agreed.

Absence for family holidays accounted for 0.7% of the days and equates to 6.8 million school days.

However, about 90% of these were authorised by the school in question.


Shadow Children's Secretary Michael Gove said truancy was at record levels and increasing every year.

"There are now twice as many school days missed as the government promised 10 years ago.

"Ministers have completely failed to get a grip of the problem. Yet again the latest figures have prompted more excuses and complacency."

Liberal Democrat education spokesman David Laws said it was totally unacceptable that one in 10 15-year-olds were persistent absentees, seriously damaging their education in this crucial year.

"This undermines any success the government is claiming on overall absence.

"It's clear that the top-down approach pursued by ministers has failed and what is needed is a more effective local approach involving parents, schools and the police."

General secretary of the NASUWT teaching union Chris Keates said: "Despite reports, it is clear from the figures that a great deal of progress has been made in tackling persistent truancy.

"Schools are to be congratulated for the significant improvements in attendance figures. Clearly, however, a core of persistent truants remain."

National Union of Teachers general secretary Steve Sinnott said: "Overcoming truancy is a difficult and demanding task requiring teachers and parents to work together.

"But there are factors, such as multiple deprivation, which influence truanting and must be tackled."

In 2005 the government spending watchdog pointed out that truancy rates had not been dented despite the millions of pounds spend on the issue.

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