City’s 4,800 persistent truants

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MORE than 4,800 Sheffield pupils each missed the equivalent of a whole month of lessons during the last complete school year, according to new Government figures.

The number of persistent truants in the city is well above the national average.

Statistics show 1.6% of half days were missed due to unauthorised absence, compared to a national figure of 1.1%.

City education managers have made tackling truancy a priority issue, with a major campaign currently under way aimed at warning parents that even a single day off school is an opportunity wasted.

Moves have also been made to cut the number of children taking extended leave abroad – usually to visit families in Asia.

During the school year 2010/11, some 4,850 children in Sheffield were classed as ‘persistent absentees’ – missing from school for 15% or more of the time.

That figure was tightened up last year by ministers. Previously children had to miss 20% of classes to be put in the category.

As usual the problems were greatest in secondary school, with nearly 3,000 pupils persistently absent. In primaries the figure was over 1,700, while in special schools the total was 155.

The figure includes children whose parents have been given headteachers’ permission to take holiday for up to a fortnight during term time – a practice Education Secretary Michael Gove is keen to stamp out.

He is considering banning the practice and introducing fixed penalty notices for parents who disobey.

But pupils are not necessarily truanting to be classed as ‘persistent absentees’ – time taken off with permission from their school counts towards the total, too. Illness is the main reason for absence, accounting for nearly 60% of time missed.

Dawn Walton, who works on boosting school attendance rates at Sheffield City Council, said there had been improvements in recent years. “But there are still children taking unauthorised absence for a number of reasons and this simply isn’t good enough,” she said.

“Our message is clear – if you miss school, you miss out.”