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On the map Absenteeism - Deprivation remains key in poor pupil attendance

Good news: the percentage of persistent pupil absentees fell between 200809 and 200910 in England in all income deprivation deciles, contributing to a fall in overall absence, as measured by the percentage of half-days missed per pupil.

But there is still a wide gulf between absence rates in the most deprived areas and those in England's more affluent areas.

The percentage of persistent absentees among the most deprived 10 per cent of pupils in the country fell from 5.7 per cent to 4.6 per cent between 200809 and 200910. In the least deprived decile, the fall was from 1.3 per cent to 1.1 per cent.

The latter group also had the smallest proportion of unauthorised absences: 0.35 per cent of half-days missed per year, compared with 1.93 per cent for pupils in the most deprived decile. Deprivation was measured using the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI), which ranks a pupil's home postcode on a scale of 1 (most deprived) to 32,482.

In the academies opened under the Labour government, the percentage of half-days missed through unauthorised absence increased between the two years. The proportion of persistent absentees also rose in the 27 academies opened between 2002 and 2006, but there were marked improvements in curbing this behaviour in the 30 academies opened in the following two years.

The percentage of all absences - authorised, unauthorised and persistent - increased as the deprivation score rose, largely because unauthorised absence was higher in more deprived areas. Persuading pupils in deprived areas of the value of schooling has never been easy. Thus, a few parents end up in prison each year for failing to send their children to school.

Most authorised absence was due to ill-health, with family holidays the second most common reason.

The Department for Education will have to account for the number of sessions lost during the past two years because of snow and other bad weather. It would be interesting to see if those figures also correlate with deprivation levels.

John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.

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