400 pupils take a month off school

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NEARLY 400 Sheffield pupils took a full month or more off school at a time during a single academic year - but not one family was taken to court as a result.

Figures obtained through The Star’s Your Right To Know campaign show more than 10,600 days of schooling were lost by such absences in 2009-10, the majority - more than 8,400 - in primary schools.

More than 3,000 school days were lost through parents taking their children out of primary school without permission, and almost 1,000 in secondaries.

But truancy officers did not launch a single prosecution against the families involved, the city council has confirmed.

In contrast more than 500 Sheffield parents were taken to court over a five year period for persistent cases of truancy by their children.

Most of the extended absences of a month or more are believed to be caused by parents taking children to Asian countries on family visits.

Some of the leave was agreed with schools beforehand - 799 days in primaries and 304 days in secondaries.

In many schools parents are allowed a maximum of 10 days off during term time - if the holiday is pre-arranged and agreed by the head.

But the city council frowns upon the practice and insists every day of schooling lost is an opportunity wasted.

It says the issue of pupils taking extended leave is being tackled - and there has been a 40 per cent reduction of such absences during the last year.

But the practice causes problems for schools who are often struggling to reach Government targets in the key subjects of English and maths.

One inner-city Sheffield headteacher said children disappearing for extended periods was ‘a real bugbear’.

“One of my brightest Year 6 pupils was away for two months and will now struggle to reach the standards we expected,” she said.

“Other pupils seem to go away every couple of years and no one is ever prosecuted. We make our views known but parents know it is an empty threat.

“We even had one lad who disappeared for about 18 months - when he did finally return his English was in a shocking state.

“And all this is at a time when we are trying so hard to reach the Government’s floor targets of 60 per cent pass rates in our SATs tests.”

Dawn Walton, the council’s assistant director for prevention and early intervention, said it was of paramount importance children were in school so they were able to make the most of opportunities to learn.

“We take all absence from school very seriously, and are pleased to confirm that there has been a 40 per cent reduction in long absences of a month or more over the past year,” she said.

“And we have introduced a whole programme of new measures over the past few months to tackle the root cause of the problem.

“We know that children who are absent for substantial parts of their education fall behind their peers and can struggle to catch up.

“Research has shown that 17 days missed can be the equivalent to one grade drop at GCSE level. We would urge parents to bear this in mind when thinking about taking their children on extended leave from school,” Mrs Walton added.