Some of our pupils are missing

Truancy Watch in Doncaster town centre.
Truancy Watch in Doncaster town centre.

ONE in 12 Doncaster secondary school pupils is playing truant persistently and missing vital lessons, latest attendance figures show.

The figure of 8.5 per cent is above the national average of 7.4 per cent - but Doncaster education officials insist they are tackling the problem.

Statistics released by the Department for Education for the academic year 2011/12 show 1,436 secondary school pupils in the borough were classed as ‘persistent absentees’ - off school at least 15 per cent of the year.

The total in primary schools was lower - 744, equivalent to 3.6 per cent - but also above the national average.

The combined total, which also includes special schools, shows there are 2,225 persistent truants out of 38,150 pupils enrolled in state schools.

Education experts say poor attendance at school can have a hugely damaging effect on a child’s education.

And business leaders in Doncaster say teenage truants ‘put themselves at the back of the queue’ when job hunting.

In Doncaster teams of police officers and education welfare officers regularly join forces to conduct patrols in the town centre and other shopping areas to challenge children of school age and find out why they are not in class.

In Doncaster attendance data for 2011/12 shows the borough has 2,225 persistent absentees - a decrease from 2,920 the previous year.

Chris Pratt, director of Children and Young People’s Services, said: “All children of compulsory school age have a legal and moral right to benefit from full-time education and we work hard to help persistent absentees to attend school regularly.

“It should be noted some of these children have significant medical issues which impact upon their attendance.

“In the academic year 2011/12 there were 695 fewer persistent absentees.

“We work hard to improve attendance and this year we have visited 1,113 families about their child’s attendance, issued 593 fixed penalty notices, entered 267 cases into enforcement proceedings, attended parents’ evenings at schools, advised schools on attendance strategy, and conducted truancy operations in partnership with South Yorkshire Police.”

Dan Fell, Doncaster Chamber’s deputy chief executive, said: “Local businesses tell us time and again they prefer to recruit locally, that they want to support young people into work, and they are keen to work with local schools to support learners.

“It is therefore massively disappointing to learn so many young people are playing truant and jeopardising their futures. It is also disappointing this problem is not being gripped in Doncaster.

“The Chamber has recently worked with local businesses to define the employability competences needed by young people if they are to find work in Doncaster.

“As part of that process the private sector made it abundantly clear young people need to demonstrate a great attendance record as well as qualifications and an appetite for work.

“Regrettably the 8.5 per cent of learners that are persistently absent from school have put themselves at the back of the queue for jobs before they have even started looking.”

Nationally in secondary schools the average was 7.4 per cent – a decline from 8.4 per cent in 2010/11.

In primary schools, 3.1 per cent of pupils were persistently absent in 2011/12 compared with 3.9 per cent in 2010/11.

Last year almost 60,000 fewer children were persistently absent from school in England.

The latest figure of 333,850 persistently absent from school was down from 392,305 in 2010-11.

The decline follows the Government’s decision to lower the persistent absence threshold from 20 per cent of school missed to 15 per cent so that heads could step in earlier to tackle problems.