Truancy levels in Scotland have hit a record high, according to official figures.
The proportion of half days lost due to unexplained absences from school, including truancy, has risen from 0.7 per cent in 2005-06 to 1.5 per cent in 2016-17, according to government figures.
The figures also show that unauthorised holidays hit their highest level last year, with the proportion of half days lost due to unauthorised holidays rising from 0.4 per cent in 2005-06 to 0.7 per cent in 2016-17.
Scottish Labour - which carried out its own analysis of the statistics - estimated that nearly two million days of term time were lost last year due to unexplained absence, including truancy.
The party’s education spokesman, Iain Gray, said the sharp increase in unauthorised absence in recent years should be a cause of concern for the SNP government and may undermine attempts to close the attainment gap. The party also said the figures highlighted a cost of living problem in Scotland, with parents pulling children out of school to save potentially hundreds of pounds on holiday travel.
Mr Gray said: “These figures should be a cause of concern for any government that wants to close the attainment gap on our classrooms, a huge amount of school days are being lost.
“Policy makers in the Scottish Government should be asking themselves why there has been such a sharp increase in these unauthorised absences and the knock on affect that will have on young people getting the skills they need.”
Schools in Scotland will not normally give a family permission to take pupils out of school for holidays during term-time.
The education authority can issue attendance orders and non-compliance can then form the basis of a prosecution against the parent in the Sheriff Court, with the Sheriff being able to fine or imprison the parent if they are found guilty.
However, according to Jim Thewliss the general secretary of secondary headteachers’ organisation School Leaders Scotland it would take persistent non-attendance, as opposed to a term time holiday, to trigger this process.
In England 19,920 people were prosecuted in 2015 for failing to ensure that a child went to school – equivalent to around 105 cases for each day of the school year. The rise in the number of fines in England follows a government crackdown on absence, including strict new rules on term-time holidays introduced in 2013.
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Although only around 0.7% of half day sessions were lost to unauthorised holiday absences in 2016/17, it is important that schools and parents continue to do all they can to ensure good attendance to maintain children’s attainment.
“The Scottish Government will continue to support local authorities, schools and parents to do all they can to ensure good attendance in addition to our considerable investment in raising attainment.”