Pupils ‘bunk’ school for family holidays

Huge savings on off-peak holidays have lured many families into take their children out of school, fuelling record truancy rates, according to official figures.

The figures have almost doubled in two years, increasing from 20,500 pupils to 40,000 pupils now being removed from school during term-time.

This incredibly rise in truancy is being blamed on parents not being able, or willing to pay up to 60 per cent more for holidays during school breaks.

Families dealing with the economic turn-down and rise in prices of everything from groceries to fuel, are opting for cheaper off-peak holidays. Although they face a fine of up to £100, this is far less than the premium they would pay by booking a family holiday during school breaks.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that despite the ‘welcome’ drop in secondary schools, absenteeism is ‘still too high’.

During the February half-term break, the average price of a holiday went up by 53 per cent, making the typical holiday premium more than £1,000.

Pupils can be granted up to ten days of a year, however these guidelines state this should only be in exceptional circumstances, for example to enable parents to meet inflexible work commitments.

Parents who ignore these rules are first reported to their local council, which can impose £50 penalty fines. These swiftly increase to £100 for non-payment.

In extreme cases, or refusal to pay the fines, parents can face jail.

According to the Department for Education figures, across all state schools, 184,020 pupils were branded ‘persistent absentees’, which means they missed more than 32 days of school, a 5 per cent increase on last year.

The overall truancy rate for all schools in England dropped marginally with 1.04 per cent of pupils regularly skipping school, down from 1.05 per cent the year before. This, however, is still a big increase on 1996-97, when the truancy rate was 0.73 per cent.