Illness blamed as school pupils miss more lessons
There was an increase in lessons missed by school pupils last year, official figures show.
Illness was given as the reason for nearly two thirds (64.7%) of authorised missed school sessions - broken down into morning and afternoon lessons - and as the explanation for the increase.
The amount of unauthorised absence remained unchanged, but the Government data shows that one in five (20.6%) absences were still without permission.
One in 20 (4.4%) overall accounted for pupils going on holiday that had not been authorised, while just 1.2% related to holidays that had been allowed.
Officials said although going on holiday was a less common reason for time off - both authorised and unauthorised - the percentage of all possible sessions missed due to trips away remained the same between autumn/spring 2013/14 and autumn/spring 2014/15 at 0.3%.
The overall absence rate across state-funded primary and secondary schools rose slightly from 4.4% to 4.5% over the two periods.
Medical or dental appointments (6.3%), other authorised circumstances (5.2%) and agreed family holiday (1.2%) were the other main reasons for agreed days off, while religious observance accounted for 0.3%.
A quarter (25.2%) of days missed were by pupils described as persistent absentees - those who did not attend 38 or more sessions (authorised or unauthorised) over the two terms.
In autumn/spring 2014/15, 256,440 were persistent absentees, although the percentage has decreased slightly from 4.1% compared to 3.9% a year earlier.
Year 11s were the age group most likely to have time off.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said: "Today's figures show schools are making real progress, with almost 200,000 fewer pupils regularly missing school compared to 2010.
"Evidence shows that missing the equivalent of just one week a year from school can damage a pupil's life chances and reduce a pupil's chances of succeeding at school.
"We took action to reduce absence in 2010 by taking a tougher approach to children regularly missing lessons and by increasing fines.
"Together with our reforms to improve behaviour and plans to crack down on truancy by deducting the cost of unpaid fines from child benefit, we have put heads and teachers firmly back in charge of their classrooms so they can extend opportunity and give the pupils the best start to life."
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), questioned whether the increase in absence due to illness was down to the pressures exerted on pupils and said it appears that fining parents for taking their children out of school to go on holiday is not working as a deterrent.
"The latest pupil absence figures are a testament to the work many schools do to identify and support persistently absent pupils and their families to increase their attendance and participation in their education," she said.
"However, we are concerned that ever-increasing workload and cuts in many pastoral teams will mean that this excellent work will get lost, risking the education and future of these children and young people.
"The increase in absence from illness needs further investigation; is this due to an increase in illnesses within the population as a whole, or could it be the impact of increasing pressure on our young people, or perhaps the result of a child and adolescent mental health service that's struggling to meet the demands placed on it.
"Regarding term-time holidays, it seems that the Government's focus on fining or jailing parents doesn't work."