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Stat of the Week - Secondary pupils classified as 'persistent absentees'

Across England, more than one in 20 secondary pupils are classified as a persistent absentee. That's probably more than one in every tutor group. The good news is that, compared with 2005-06, the percentage of these pupils has declined from 7.1 per cent to 5.6 per cent, according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families' figures.

Even so, 163,296 pupils lost so much time from school last year that their education will have been affected. Some will have been ill, but the bulk are likely to be those for whom secondary education seems to have little positive to offer.

Most will become part of the Neet group (not in education, employment or training) who leave school at 16 and will provide the greatest challenge to the system once the school leaving age is increased to 18.

Almost all local authorities contributed towards the improvement in the figures with, in one case, the percentage dropping from close to one in five pupils to one in 10 in just two years.

Generally, urban areas have a higher percentage of persistent absentees than the shire counties, with the unitary authorities that de-merged from the shires in the Nineties having some of the highest percentages. It's too soon to determine whether the academies programme is having any effect in reducing absence levels. Whether changes to the curriculum and the introduction of the diplomas will help is still in the realm of speculation. But, with behaviour patterns often entrenched by the age of 14, they may come too late in the lives of many young people.

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

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