"When major cities such as Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh have fewer unauthorised absences recorded than Stirling, something is wrong," Gordon Jeyes, the director of education, says.
Stirling's secondaries are shown as having almost three times the unauthorised absence rate of Glasgow, twice that of Dundee and almost double that of Edinburgh.
According to the Scottish Office, Stirling secondary pupils were off without permission on an average of seven days each in 1997-98, giving an absence rate of 5 per cent. The equivalent figures are two-and-a-half days for Glasgow (1 per cent), four days for Edinburgh (2 per cent) and three-and-a-half days for Dundee (2 per cent).
Mr Jeyes says pointedly that his council follows Scottish Office guidelines "scrupulously". These define unauthorised absence as temporary exclusions arising from incidents in or out of the class, truancy, family holidays where attendance is otherwise unsatisfactory and unexplained absence.
"There is concern that not all authorities take as firm a line on unexplained absence," he said.
The council does not, however, challenge the reliability of the statistics on exclusions - presumably because it has one of the lowest rates in the country. Temporary exclusions ran at 17 days for every 100 secondary pupils, compared with a national figure of 45.
Overall, Stirling's 49 primary and secondary schools have recorded only 46 exclusions this session. "This is an exceptional achievement," Mr Jeyes said.
The Scottish Office has forced schools to drop the use of informal exclusions. There will therefore almost certainly be an increase in formal exclusions, although the Government expects the number to fall by a third by 2001.