MORE than 5,400 Sheffield pupils missed the equivalent of a whole month of lessons during the last school year, according to tougher new Government truancy figures.
The problem was worst in the city’s secondary schools where more than one in 10 youngsters - 11.7 per cent - were absent from school for 15 per cent or more of the time.
The statistics highlighting persistent absenteeism cover the autumn and spring terms of the last school year, and have been tightened up by ministers.
Previously children had to miss 20 per cent of their schooling - the equivalent of six weeks of missed lessons in a school year - to fall into the bottom category.
Now the figure has been reduced to 15 per cent, which Schools Minister Nick Gibb believes gives a clearer picture of the problem.
It means the number of persistent absentees in all Sheffield schools has more than doubled, from 4.3 per cent to 8.8 per cent - 5,425 pupils in total.
In primary schools 2,172 children fall into the new category - 6.4 per cent - with 3,253 in secondaries.
The new city truancy rates are also well above the national average of 7.2 per cent, a figure which has failed to improve on last year.
Angela Armytage, headteacher at Yewlands Technology College at Parson Cross, said her persistent absence rate had been reduced from 8.2 per cent to 6.8 per cent - and it was expected to fall again this year.
“Many of these students are disengaged young people who either see no point in education or think it is not for them. Schools across Sheffield are developing personalised methods of learning to make schooling relevant to them,” she said.
“But while the figures will come down there will always be a hard core of pupils and their families who are very hard to reach, despite all the hard work that is being done right across the city.”
Chris Keen, head at Firth Park Community Arts College, said the school had a dedicated member of staff who carried out home visits to families of pupils with poor attendance records.
“It is an issue we are being proactive about and attendance rates are currently significantly higher this year than last,” he said.
“We set clear targets for our students and those achieving 100 per cent records benefit from a reward system which provide vouchers that can be spent in Argos - with the items being presented in school.
“Persistent absence is an issue for this school and it is something we are working to reduce all the time,” Mr Keen added.
Ministers want the new measures to act as a warning for schools - giving staff a chance to step in and tackle the issue sooner before problems really take hold.
Previously some schools did not take action until a pupil missed 20 per cent or more of their school time - which often was simply too late.
Mr Gibb said the new figures were worrying.
“It is unacceptable that more than 450,000 pupils are missing the equivalent of a month of lessons a year. Even one day missed from school without very good reason is one too many,” he said.
“Children who are absent for substantial parts of their education fall behind and struggle to catch up. By lowering the threshold, we are encouraging schools to crack down on absence before the problem escalates.”
Education analysts have found much of the work children miss when they are off school is never made up, leaving them at a considerable disadvantage. They have found clear evidence of a link between poor attendance at school and low levels of achievement.
Truancy in numbers
n 2,172 - the number of primary school children who are persistently absent
n 8.8 per cent - the rate of persistent truancy across the city for pupils of all ages
n 7.2 per cent - the equivalent national figure
n 450,330 - the number of persistent truants across England