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Volume 458: debated on Monday 26 March 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1) what definition his Department uses of truancy; (129642)

(2) what targets his Department has for reducing truancy.

[holding answer 23 March 2007]: Truancy is generally considered to be unjustified absence from school, usually without parental knowledge or consent.

The Department does not set targets for reducing truancy because we are concerned about all forms of problem absence, including parentally condoned or encouraged absence, and because there is no satisfactory direct measure of truancy. Unauthorised absence is often taken to be a proxy for truancy, but it is an imperfect measure because it also includes lateness, some term time holidays and absence which parents have not yet explained. It is also well known that unauthorised absence tends to rise when schools take a tougher line on absence generally, as it has done in recent years, without necessarily reflecting any underlying increase in truancy.

That is why the Department has moved away from focusing narrowly on rates of unauthorised absence. We are now focusing our efforts on reducing persistent absence, including persistent truancy, in schools where this problem is most acute and where a small minority of pupils miss significant amounts of their schooling. This is proving highly effective. Last year, our targeted challenge and support in 198 secondary schools helped to reduce the number of pupils in those schools with high levels of unauthorised absence by 27 per cent. to reduce the average rate of absence in those schools by 0.63 percentage points and the average rate of unauthorised absence by 0.89 percentage points.

Building on that success, we are now focusing on providing challenge and support to 436 secondary schools with high levels of persistent absence.