Rise in truancy but ministers claim more pupils in class

The government has played down a rise in the number of pupils skipping classes without permission, arguing it is the overall number of lessons missed that matters.

Figures for overall absence show a small decline, with 7.76 per cent of lessons missed in the first two terms of the last academic year. This is down from 8.16 per cent for the autumn and spring terms the year before.

This compares to an increase in the number of secondary school pupils playing truant.

Figures released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families show 204,810 secondary age pupils played truant at least one day last year.

This resulted in 1.46 per cent of secondary school sessions being missed, up from 1.41 per cent the year before.

The government insists the number of sessions children miss is more important than the reason why and reaffirmed its commitment to crack down on parents taking their children out of class.

Children’s minister Kevin Brennan said: “Overall absence is the key measure for us and we’re pleased these figures show it continues to fall.

“After all, whether pupils have an absence note from parents or not, they’re still missing school and in danger of slipping behind.

He continued: “We’ve asked schools to get tougher on weak excuses for absence, which is why more absence is recorded as being unauthorised. This shows our hard-line approach is working to cut overall absence.”

Mr Brennan warned local authorities would use fines and parenting orders were parents “wilfully neglect” their responsibilities.

More than half of all absenteeism was blamed on illness, excluding medical and dental appointments.

The Liberal Democrats said the government was failing to address the underlying causes of absenteeism.

Schools and children spokesman David Laws pointed to the “clear link” between truancy and bullying, meaning some children are too afraid to go to school.

He called for better teacher training to allow teachers to detect bullying at the early stages.

But the Liberal Democrats backed the government in cracking down on parents who sanction absences.

Mr Laws said: “Parents need to take responsibility for their children’s behaviour and they have an obligation to ensure they attend school.

“A community-wide approach involving parents, police and local welfare officers will be much more effective than the current top-down measures pursued by ministers.”