Page last updated at 11:58 GMT, Tuesday, 21 October 2008 12:58 UK

More primary pupils miss school

The overall rate of unauthorised absence remains the same as last year

There has been an increase of 7,000 in the number of primary age pupils in England identified as "persistent absentees", the latest figures show.

More than 6% of secondary pupils also missed more than a fifth of lessons.

The total declined by 14,800 but in seven local authorities more than one in 10 were persistently absent.

There was a slight decline in overall absenteeism, from 6.44% to 6.26%, prompted by a fall in authorised absences such as family holidays.

The Department for Schools, Children and Families figures, showing children missing school in autumn term 2007 and spring 2008 in England, record that almost 10 million half-day sessions were missed in unauthorised absences.

But the rate of unauthorised absences remained unchanged at 0.97% of all half-day sessions.

The absenteeism rate for primary schools rose to 0.56% of all sessions, up from 0.52% last year.

Regional differences

This more detailed breakdown of absenteeism shows the impact of pupils who are persistently missing on the overall figures - defined as those who miss more than 20% of school sessions.

Secondary schools: 7.3% total absence, 1.43% unauthorised
Primary: 5.35% total, 0.56% unauthorised

Secondary: 9.3% total absence, 1.8% unauthorised
Primary: 6.9% total, 0.9% unauthorised

Primary, secondary and special: 6.74% total absence, 1.4% unauthorised

Northern Ireland
Post-primary: 7.7% total absence 2.4% unauthorised
Primary: statistics not collected centrally

They accounted for more than half of unauthorised absences.

There was a 7,000 increase in the number of primary pupils classified as persistent absentees to 81,530, representing 2.4% of enrolments.

In secondary school there were 191,240, which was 6.4% of the total.

The government figures reveal areas of the country which have a much greater problem with such persistent absenteeism.

In Hull, 12.9% of secondary pupils are classified as persistently absent, 12.3% in Manchester and 10.1% in Southampton.

At the other end of the scale, in Redbridge only 4% were persistently absent and 4.3% in Barnet.

However the classification for "persistent absentee" also includes those who have been given permission to miss school, such as those with illnesses.

Elsewhere in the UK absenteeism is generally higher than in England.

'Toughest nut'

A spokesperson for the DCSF says: “Persistent absence in secondary schools remains the toughest nut to crack - with just 6% of children accounting for 77% of unauthorised absence.

"Today’s statistics show that there were around 15,000 less persistent absentees in secondary schools and we have cut persistent absence by 20% in the 436 schools with the highest numbers of persistent absentees."

The figures for overall absenteeism include both those playing truant and those "authorised" to be away.

The most common reasons for missing school were illness and family holidays - with 86% of such family trips being approved by the school.

Academies, usually based in deprived areas, continue to have above-average absenteeism rates, currently 8.55% on average - down from 9.52% for the same period last year.

The complete annual figures will not be available until February - but the projected annual absenteeism rate for primary and secondary schools is 6.26%.

"The vast majority of children have no unauthorised absence at all. The fact is that weak excuses no longer wash with schools - overall absence is going down because schools are taking on the persistent absentees," says Children’s Minister Baroness Morgan.

The Conservatives' Schools Spokesman Nick Gibb said the figures were a "stubborn reminder that the government's multi-million pound strategy to tackle truancy has not succeeded".

"Most alarming of all is the significant increase in the number of persistent absentees in primary schools which has risen by over 10% since last year. It is the poorest pupils that are worst affected. Almost half of these children repeatedly skipping school are eligible for free school meals."

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