Truancy worsens

Thousands of teenagers are missing a fifth of the school year, according to figures showing truancy levels are far worse than previously thought.

Nearly 220,000 pupils were absent for at least one day a week through truancy, sickness or holidays last year, the Department for Education and Skills said.

About 43,000 pupils were thought to be truanting every day, 7,000 more than earlier government figures suggested. The figures for 2005-06 showed:

* about 30 per cent of secondary pupils were out of school without authorisation for at least half a day,

* 10 per cent were absent from school for more than five weeks,

* 7.3 per cent of girls in state secondaries were absent for more than a fifth of the school year, compared to 6.9 per cent of boys,

* children from poor homes who are eligible for free school meals were three times more likely than classmates to play truant, and

* white British pupils were more likely to be absent than Asian, black and Chinese pupils.

The Government is paying for more than 400 schools with high levels of absence to use a new text message alert system.

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