Halt absences, parents urged

One in six pupils is taken out of school by their parents on term-time holidays averaging five days, according to the latest attendance figures for last session.

The number of pupils involved was 125,000, and holiday absenteeism was highest in primary and lowest in the examination years of S4-S6.

Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, issued an immediate plea to parents to desist. He said the rules had been changed to classify such absences as unauthorised "and I hope that responsible parents will want to ensure their children do not miss school unnecessarily".

The figures, however, show that schools do approve holiday requests to a substantial extent. Taken as a proportion of the days pupils are supposed to be at school, the statistics reveal that 628,000 such days are lost due to holidays (less than one day per pupil) - of which almost half were authorised by the school.

New guidance for education authorities has changed the rules so that holidays in term time are only to be sanctioned in "exceptional circumstances"; previously, they were permitted if the pupil's attendance was otherwise satisfactory. But some authorities have yet to implement this change fully, according to the Executive's statisticians, and they warn against comparisons between local education authorities.

The national average for those taking term holidays is a tiny 0.3 per cent or less of the absence rate, for both unauthorised and authorised holidays.

It reaches no higher than 0.8 per cent in Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Falkirk and Stirling primaries, and the same rate in Falkirk's secondaries.

Exceptional circumstances which allow schools to sanction holidays are family holidays "judged to be important to the well-being and cohesion of the family", and time for recovery from serious or terminal illness, bereavement or other traumatic events.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council does advise parents not to remove their children from schools for holidays. "But you can't be draconian about it," Judith Gillespie, its development manager, says.

"Parents think only about their own child and don't always consider the effects on the class. Perhaps what it shows is the need for schools to communicate more with parents on this issue.

Mrs Gillespie suggested that the attendance and absence figures, more than any other, reflect the realities of life - disaffected youngsters, the need for people to have holidays and the upheaval in people's lives. "In that situation, the idea that you can get 100 per cent attendance - forget it," she added.

Overall, the figures show a 93.1 per cent attendance rate. For primaries, it is 95.3 per cent, secondaries 90.2 per cent and special schools 91.1 per cent.

The number of pupils actually truanting last session was 140,000 - or one in five who skipped school at least once.

The hard core of the problem is also revealed, however, since 9 per cent of pupils are responsible for 90 per cent of the time lost due to truancy, and 2 per cent of pupils are responsible for 50 per cent of it.

A comparison with the position 10 years ago shows a slight improvement. In 1994, 21 half- days per pupil were lost through absenteeism in primary schools, compared with 18 last year - or roughly two weeks out of 38 for each pupil; in secondaries, the respective figures are 44 and 37 half days - or around four weeks per pupil.


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