Truants stay in the classroom as term-time holidays lose their allure

The Department for Education (DfE) has revealed record low numbers of children persistently missing lessons.

The government said the statistics, which were released this week and which cover the autumn and spring terms of the last academic year, show 176,850 fewer pupils persistently missed school than in 2009 to 2010, dropping from 439,105 to 262,255.

A “persistently absent” pupil misses 15 per cent or more school time

The DfE said the overall rate of absence has dropped more than a quarter since 2009-10, from six to 4.4 per cent.

School Reform Minister Nick Gibb said: “Missing lessons can be hugely damaging to a pupil’s education, but today’s figures show more pupils than ever before are getting the best preparation for life in modern Britain.

“The figures also reveal that teachers can be increasingly confident in the behaviour and commitment of their pupils in lessons.”

The DfE said the change in the law last September to headteachers only granting leave from school in “exceptional circumstances” meant that “thousands” fewer pupils went on term-time holidays.

In total, for the two terms since the law change and for which figures are available, 4.6 per cent of recorded absence was due to family holiday which had not been agreed by the school.

Amy Sippitt, education lead at independent fact-checking organisation Full Fact, said: “These figures only cover two terms but show persistent absenteeism is still going down.

“Overall absence rates are falling, thanks in part to fewer authorised holidays and to a much larger extent, to fewer days off sick.

“There’s also been a small increase in unauthorised holidays, so it’s possible some families might just be going against school rules instead.”

Karen Wilkinson, of campaign group Parents Want a Say, said the group believes a blanket ban on term-time absence is unlawful under human rights legislation and counter-productive.

“The DfE appears to place great store by attendance figures on the basis of a statistical correlation between attendance and attainment.

“However, its own analysis in 2011 made it very clear that no causal link one way or the other was proved and that, in fact, absence for family holidays had no effect on attainment at key stage 2.” She said it only had an effect at key stage 4 when there was pupil absence of more than 4 per cent.

“Underlying the unhappiness with the current attendance policy, and a range of other education policies, is parents’ deep disquiet that their children are being used to further other people’s agendas whilst they are told that they cannot be trusted to have their own children’s best interests at heart.”