The government has promised to turn its attention to primary school children who regularly truant, after targeted measures in secondary schools led to a slight fall in unauthorised absences.
Overall, unauthorised absences rose by 0.01 per cent to 0.79 per cent in 2005/6, compared with a 0.06 per cent rise the previous year. This figure includes a 0.01 per cent fall across secondary schools, but a 0.03 per cent rise in primaries.
Announcing the latest truancy figures, schools minister Jim Knight said the improvements at secondary level had been helped by a 27 per cent fall in the number of persistent truants across schools involved in the “fast track to attendance” scheme.
Last September, the government announced plans to force the 146 secondary schools across England responsible for the most absences to identify their 8,000 most persistent truants and put their parents on the fast track scheme. This target was later raised to 13,000 persistent truants in 200 schools.
Under the scheme, any parent whose child’s attendance does not improve over a 12-week period automatically faces prosecution and the possibility of a three-month prison sentence or fine of up to £2,500.
Vowing to keep up the pressure, Knight promised to examine how the scheme could now be extended to more schools in the future, including feeder primaries in the hope of nipping emerging truanting behaviour in the bud.
“A stubborn minority of pupils remain determined to jeopardise their education and their futures by missing very significant amounts of their schooling,” Knight said. “Our targeting of ‘serial truants’ is delivering impressive results. While the causes of truancy are complex and challenging, we will continue to focus on this minority who are responsible for much of unauthorised absence.”
Figures for authorised absences also rose last year, from 5.67 per cent to 5.89 per cent across all schools. Rates of unauthorised absences remained considerably higher at academies than maintained schools, although were well down on previous years’ figures.