20 million school days missed by pupils last autumn, figures reveal

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Pupils missed about 20 million days of school during last autumn, official figures show.

New statistics show a slight rise in children skipping lessons without permission while the number of youngsters who are "persistently absent" also increased.

The Department for Education (DfE) data also shows that schoolchildren in England were most likely to miss classes due to illness, although it also reveals a hike in the percentage that missed at least a half day of school due to taking unapproved family holidays.

Overall, children at state primaries and secondaries missed 20.1 million school days in the autumn term of last year, up from 19.6 million during the autumn of 2016.

The rise reflects an increase in the total number of pupil enrolments, DfE statisticians said, adding that on average, each missed three days of lessons.

The statistics look at enrolments, rather than individual pupils, which means that children can be counted more than once, for example if they have changed schools in the middle of the academic year.

The data shows that while the overall authorised absence rate fell slightly from 3.3% in autumn 2016, to 3.2% in the autumn term of last year, the unauthorised rate - pupils missing class without permission - rose from 1% to 1.1%.

Illness accounted for 58.3% of all absences last autumn, the figures show, with more than half of all pupil enrolments (58.2%) missing at least half a day due to being sick.

Meanwhile, the proportion of pupils who missed at least half a day due to going on a family trip that had not been approved by the school rose to 5.6% from 5% the previous year.

The proportion of authorised holidays remained at 1.2%.

The figures cover the period after a father, Jon Platt, lost a high-profile Supreme Court case over taking his daughter out of school for a holiday to Disney World, Florida, without permission.

Some 11.5% of pupil enrolments were classified as "persistent absentees" - meaning they missed at least 10% of half days - up from 11.4% in the autumn of 2016.

A DfE spokesman said: "No child should be taken out of school without good reason - children only get one chance at an education and evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil's chances of achieving good GCSEs.

"The rules on term-time absences are clear and we have put schools back in control by supporting them - and local authorities - to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said: "It is important that children miss as little time at school as possible.

"The cumulative effect of missed days can be harmful to children's education.

"This means that requests for time off during term time are only normally authorised in exceptional circumstances, which does not normally include holidays.

"However, the system of fines is clearly too blunt an instrument and in many cases it drives a wedge between schools and families.

"The real problem is holiday pricing. Neither parents nor schools set the prices of holidays.

"They will both continue to be caught between a rock and hard place without some sensible government intervention."