Revealed: The Norfolk schools with highest levels of 'persistently absent' pupils last year
PUBLISHED: 06:00 21 October 2019 | UPDATED: 10:46 21 October 2019
Almost 12,000 children were regularly missing from Norfolk's schools for the first two terms last year, figures reveal.
Department for Education (DfE) data shows 11,798 pupils at state primaries and secondaries in the county - around one in eight - were classed as persistently absent in the autumn 2018 and spring 2019 terms. In secondary schools the figure climbs to 15pc.
Across England the rate of persistently absent pupils - those missing at least 10pc of school time - dropped slightly, but only back to 2015/16 levels. The overall persistent absence rate in Norfolk followed this trend, falling from 12.2pc in 2017/18 to 12pc.
Authorised absences, such as for illness or medical appointments, accounted for 73pc of time off. The rest were unauthorised, including those for truancy and arriving late.
Family holidays for which permission was not given by the school made up one-fifth of unauthorised absences.
Scott Lyons, National Education Union (NEU) Norfolk district secretary, said schools were diligent in monitoring patterns in persistent absence.
But he said the effects of austerity on some families and the rising price of holidays had played a part in some parents' willingness to risk a penalty for unathorised absence.
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"Teachers know why some families are taking the risk, but I think families appreciate there needs to be a fair and consistent approach for everyone," he said.
"In recent years schools have been challenging parents and tried to put systems in to make sure those children are where they are supposed to be, in school learning and safe, particularly for vulnerable children."
But Mr Lyons said improving attendance was not a battle schools could fight alone, adding that the actions taken by some parents who did not like being challenged on their child's attendance - such as airing their grievances on social media or requesting local authority or Ofsted investigations - could hinder schools' efforts.
At Cliff Park Ormiston Academy in Gorleston staff have been working hard to tackle persistent absence and its rate is now below the national average.
Principal Tamsin Poulter said the school had invested in a pastoral care team to support families plus extra pastoral support in school to build a "stable environment" for pupils.
"We have high expectations in all aspects of school life including learning, behaviour and attendance and our students and parents respond to that positively," she said.
A DfE spokeswoman said: "Tackling persistent absence is a priority for the government and it is encouraging to see a decrease in persistent and overall absence compared to last year.
"The rules on term-time absences are clear. No child should be taken out of school without good reason."