Thousands of Wakefield pupils missing school on a regular basis

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Persistent absence rates for school pupils in Wakefield are higher than average.

Figures released by the Department for Education earlier this week, show there were 2,323 persistent absentees during the past academic year.

Of those, 879 were primary school pupils and 1,444 secondary pupils – but council chiefs say things are improving.

Nationally, persistent absence rates fell by a third after the government reduced the threshold at which a pupil is defined as being ‘persistently absent’ in 2011 from 20 per cent of lessons missed, to 15 per cent, which equates to having a month off school a year.

This allowed schools to take action against problem pupils sooner.

It also increased fines for truancy from £50 to £60, and the time limit for paying penalties was reduced from 42 days to 28 days.

In Wakefield, persistent absence has decreased from 6.2 per cent to 5.7 per cent, with the national average currently standing at 4.9 per cent.

John Wilson, Wakefield Council’s corporate director for children and young people, said: “Excellent attendance at school is essential if children are to make good progress and thrive. Persistent absence ensures that a child or young person will fall behind in their work and this is not acceptable.

“Consequently we are pleased that we have seen a decrease in school absences, and are continuing to work with schools to reduce the problem across the district.

“We’re doing this by improving our systems to highlight persistent absence at an earlier stage and we are also assisting schools by providing appropriate support. We will issue fixed penalty notices and, where appropriate, continue to take action against parents whose children are persistently absent from school.”

Figures supplied to the Express by Wakefield Council, show that 794 Fixed Penalty Notices were issued for unauthorised absence in 2012–13.

There were also 47 parental prosecutions for persistent non-attendance.

Attendance forms part of Ofsted’s judgements on the behaviour and safety of pupils at a school, and the quality of leadership and management.

But headteachers say there is more to the problem of persistent absence than meets the eye.

Jane Coyle, headteacher of Wrenthorpe Primary School, said: “These figures need to be put into context. A school can have one or two persistent absentees who are off as a result of illness. There are always stories behind the numbers.”