Thousands of Wigan pupils missed school last year

Shock figures
Shock figures

Nearly 2,000 Wigan pupils were missing from class each day last year due to illness, holidays or truancy, shock figures reveal.

But the number of fines handed to parents for their children’s poor school attendance plummeted by more than half compared to the previous year - bucking a national trend.

Department for Education figures show the borough’s state secondary school pupils missed 5.6 per cent of lesson time in the 2017-18 academic year.

Of those absences, more than a third were unauthorised, including truancy or for family holidays for which permission was not granted.

And 14 per cent of the 17,928 pupils enrolled in secondary schools were classed as persistently absent, meaning they missed 10 per cent or more of their total learning time.

Wigan primary school pupils missed 4.2 per cent of lesson time, with more than a quarter of absences unauthorised. Some eight per cent were persistent absentees.

Absence rates increased slightly in secondary schools compared to 2016-17, when 5.2 per cent of sessions were missed, and also increased slightly from four per cent in primary schools.

Meanwhile, the number of fines handed to parents for their children’s absence dropped last year.

There were 240 penalty notices issued in 2017-18, down from 544 in 2016-17.

Last year, just 18 per cent of the fines issued were for unauthorised holidays – just 12 per cent of unauthorised absences were recorded as being for holidays.

Across England, the number of fines issued actually increased by a whopping 75 per cent in 2017-18: most of them for unauthorised family holidays.

It comes in the wake of the case featuring father Jon Platt who initially won a high-profile High Court case in May 2016 over taking his daughter out of school for a holiday to Disney World, Florida, without permission. The case was later referred to the Supreme Court, where Mr Platt lost.

Cath Pealing, interim assistant director for education at Wigan Council, said: “Wigan has a strong focus on ensuring that all children are in school all of the time, however, absences are assessed on an individual basis and can be authorised for a range of reasons from sickness and medical appointments to religious reasons.

“Our school absence rates are in line with the regional and national averages and we feel that this has been achieved through a successful relationship between schools, parents and children’s services.

“We will continue to work with parents and partners to help regular non-attenders overcome the barriers that are impacting on their attendance at school so we can ensure that all children can access a valuable education.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Education Secretary has made clear, persistent absence from school is a society-wide challenge that we all need to work together to resolve - and while significant progress has been made, today’s data shows that has now plateaued.

“High quality education and pastoral care will make a real difference to children’s life chances, and that’s particularly important for those who are most vulnerable, but clearly key initiatives will only work if children are present.

“That’s why the rules on term-time absences are clear: no child should be taken out of school without good reason.

“We have put head teachers back in control by supporting them - and local authorities - to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence.”