Lost days multiply

Pupils are still receiving a fragmented education which will affect their future, writes John Howson

The number of school days that children in England miss through authorised absence has begun to rise again.

Attendance rates improved gradually between 19956 and 199900. But this trend was reversed during the 20001 school year.

The rise in authorised absences affected primary, secondary and special schools across the country. Overall, 5.6 per cent of half-days in primary schools and 8 per cent of half-days in secondaries were missed. Illness will have accounted for most of the lost days, but many pupils are also allowed to go on cheaper family holidays during term time.

Authorised absence covers any time off that is permitted by the school, rather than parents. Since 1998 it has excluded activities such as field trips or work experience.

By contrast, there was no general rise in unauthorised absence during 20001. The average number of half-days missed per pupil fell in secondary schools, remained static in primaries, and only rose in special schools. Secondary schools in the North-east, with 20 half-days' unauthorised absence and 28 half-days' authorised absence, head the regional table. Whether this is due to a mis-match between work holidays and school terms or to some other reason is unclear.

Inner London is at the top of both the authorised (19 half-days) and unauthorised (11) absence tables for primary schools. The Bulletin on Absence Rates issued by the Department for Education and Skills suggests that high levels of authorised and unauthorised absence are often found in the same secondary schools. No fewer than 345 of the 514 secondaries with high levels of authorised absence (10 per cent or above) also had high levels (1 per cent or above) of unauthorised absence.

The correlation for primary schools was less significant. Although the downward trend in overall absence rates over the longer term is encouraging, taken together with the data on teacher absences and the use of supply teachers, it still means that some pupils are receiving a fragmented education that will almost certainly affect their educational achievements.

John Howson is managing director of Education Data Surveys. Email john.howson@lineone.net

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