According to statistics published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, record numbers of pupils persistently played truant in 2006-07. Around 272,950 pupils were persistent absentees last year, missing more than 20% of school – nearly 7% of pupils in secondary and 2% in primary schools.

The schools minister, Kevin Brennan, said rising “unauthorised absence” figures were the “logical consequence of successfully getting tougher on absence”. He added that unauthorised absence included lateness, term-time holidays and “flimsy excuses” and so “did not reliably represent ‘problem absence'”.

More than half the absences (3.47% of the 6.49% overall rate) were recorded as being because of illness. This was the most common reason in secondary schools, among girls, and among poor pupils on free school meals.

Family holidays – agreed and not agreed by the school – were the second most commonly reported reason for children’s absence. They accounted for 0.7% or 6.8 million school days in total. Most (90%) were authorised by schools. But less than 18% of pupil enrolments account for over half the total number of absent sessions.

“Dubious absences are now being rigorously queried rather than overlooked as they may have been a decade ago. Another drop in overall absence this year shows we’re succeeding, with on average 58,000 more pupils in school each day than if absence were still at 1997 levels”, said Mr. Brennan.

(Adapted from Education Guardian, 26 February 2008)

  1. As a group, discuss how reliable and valid these statistics might be. You should discuss how truancy might be defined – e.g. how long ought an absence to be in hours or days for it to count? Is any truancy not known about? Is it always recorded and who will record it? Does it always get reported to a personal tutor or to the head? Does every head have the same system for recording truancy in every school? Might some schools have higher or lower recorded rates, regardless of their actual rate?
  2. If you are a school student, find out about the way truancy is recorded in your own school.