After a winter of swine flu and prolonged snow, it is a fair bet that pupil absence for the period between September 2009 and March 2010 will top the 100 million mark. Last year, the gross number of sessions across the two terms missed by pupils in state funded schools exceeded 99 million. For some teachers, these absences are a welcome relief from bullying and low-level disruption; for some pupils they are a tragic interlude in otherwise successful school careers.
Most absences are authorised, with illness and medical or dental appointments being responsible for the largest percentage of authorised absences. The next largest group is family holidays, followed by time off for religious observance and pupils who have been excluded for whom no alternative provision has been made. One in five absences in secondary and just over one in 10 in primary schools are not authorised, with most of these pupils missing for unexplained reasons.
Absence rates don't vary much across the country, although outer London has the lowest rate among secondary schools of anywhere in England. Nationally, of those missing school during these two terms, some 5.7 per cent were classified as persistent absentees, although the figure was as high as one in 10 pupils in three local authorities.
Fortunately, authorised absences have been in decline, although unauthorised truancy has remained stubbornly high in the secondary sector. This must give pause for thought about what will happen when the learning leaving age is raised to 18.
John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.