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Truancy 'much worse than ministers believed'

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Published by webmaster for 24dash.com in Education

Truancy 'much worse than ministers believed'

The scale of truancy in England's secondary schools is far higher than ministers previously believed, according to new Government figures published today.

More detailed statistics based on a new way of recording children's absence showed the truancy rate was 18% higher than earlier figures suggested.

Nearly 220,000 hard-core absentees were missing school for least one day every week through truancy, sickness or holidays last year, the Department for Education and Skills said.

And girls were more likely to skip school than boys, the figures showed.

Calculations based on the DfES figures suggested that about 43,000 pupils were playing truant from secondary schools in England every day.

The statistics showed children from poorer homes were far more likely to skip than other pupils.

And despite the image of boys being badly behaved, girls were more likely to truant.

Overall, secondary school children missed 8.24% of sessions during the 2005-06 school year.

Pupils missed 1.42% of lessons through "unauthorised absence" or truancy. This was 0.22 points higher than the figure from the previous method of collecting absence data.

The figures showed nearly one in three secondary school children were out of school without authorisation for at least half a day last year.

But ministers stressed that just 2.4% of pupils accounted for more than half of all truancy.

Schools minister Jim Knight said: "The figures that emerge from this new and much more detailed approach to capturing attendance data justify our targeted approach to tackling absence.

"They show that we are dealing with a small minority of persistent absentees who account for most absence.

"It makes sense to clamp down on these as an absolute priority."

He said efforts already under way were bringing results, with a 27% cut in truancy at 200 schools which had been targeted for their absence records.

But Mr Knight said parents must do more to stop their children bunking off.

"Parents have a critical role to play in this process though," he said.

"We know from truancy sweeps that around half of all children caught out of school with no good reason are found with an adult.

"That's why we have given schools and local authorities the powers they need to make sure parents take responsibility for their child's attendance.

"We want parents working with schools, not against them."

The DfES is paying for more than 400 schools with high levels of persistent absence to use a new text message alert system to combat truancy.

The system, which officials said had proved effective and popular, links to a school's electronic register and automatically texts parents and pupils when they do not turn up to .

Under the old method of collecting absence figures, an estimated 36,000 pupils were believed to be skipping secondary school every day last year.

But today's figures suggested that this had under-estimated the scale of the problem by about 7,000.

Previously the Government figures were based on averages compiled by schools once a year.

The new data is more detailed, with figures collected by schools every term, giving information for each pupil and reasons why they were absent.

Unauthorised absence includes extreme lateness and holidays taken during term time which have not been signed off by the school. Authorised absence includes sickness.

The figures showed:

:: One in 10 pupils was absent from school for more than five weeks last year;

:: 7.3% of all girls in state secondaries were absent for more than a fifth of the school year, compared with 6.9% of boys;

:: Children from poor homes who are eligible for free school meals were three times more likely than their mates to play truant;

:: White British pupils were more likely to be absent than Asian, black and Chinese pupils.

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said truancy was proving a serious problem for state education.

"The billions of pounds the Government has spent on various anti-truancy initiatives has clearly failed," he said.

"The focus of the Government must be on behaviour and discipline in our schools, so they are safe and secure places where learning and academic rigour can prevail.

"We also need to ensure that children are engaged with their learning.

"More setting and streaming in secondary schools will ensure that lessons can stretch able children and give the less able the time and space to learn.

"A combination of better behaviour in schools and a reduction in mixed ability teaching will do more to reduce disaffection and truancy than any number of expensive initiatives designed to deal with the symptoms of the problem."

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather said: "These new figures show that this Government has spectacularly failed to get a grip on truancy.

"We finally have a more accurate picture of quite how bad the situation is.

"The Education Secretary can't personally compel children to attend school, but we should expect him to waste less money on ill thought-out schemes.

"After 10 years of Labour in government, we're only now starting at square one with the first set of reliable data."

Copyright Press Association 2007

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