Which Suffolk schools have the highest levels of 'persistently absent' pupils?
One in nine school pupils in Suffolk repeatedly miss classes, it has emerged.
Nearly 10,000 children in the county are failing to turn up to more than 10% of lessons, and are classed as 'persistently absent', according to new Department for Education (DfE) data.
The figures for Suffolk, from September to Easter, are higher than the national average - at 11.2% of the county's school population. In Essex, 19,526 students regularly missed lessons, which is more than one in 10 pupils (10.6%) across the county.
Secondary school pupils were more likely to miss classes, with 14% in Suffolk and 13% in Essex, compared with just 9% of primary school children.
Jack Abbott, Labour's education spokesman at Suffolk County Council, expressed concern at the news and said: "We want children to be in school learning, so it is really concerning that nearly 10,000 pupils in Suffolk are considered to be persistently absent.
"Persistent absence can be a complex issue, but Suffolk seems to have a particular problem, so we should be proactively looking to understand why so many children are not regularly attending school and start tackling the root causes.
"Politicians, schools, parents and even young people themselves - we all have a shared responsibility to drastically improve these attendance figures and ensure that all children are fully benefitting from their education."
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Meanwhile Jerry Glazier, of the National Education Union in Essex, added: "You can see with the Essex data that 60% of absences are due to illnesses. It seems quite unfair to label these sorts of pupils as persistent absentees, particularly if some kids have got serious or chronic illnesses."
Cost of family holidays 'a major factor'
Both counties were also higher than the national average for overall absence rates - on average, pupils lost six days of teaching each between September and Easter this year. However, only 1% of all absences were unauthorised.
More than a fifth of unauthorised absences - which can be for a variety of reasons including truancy - were for holidays during term time, while 8% of them were for lateness. Illness accounted for 60% of authorised absences in both counties.
Mr Abbott added: "I am sceptical about the effectiveness or sustainability of fines and know they can create a divide between families and schools. The cost of family holidays is undoubtedly a major factor. Many parents simply cannot afford to go away during the school holidays so are willing to risk a fine by taking their children away during term-time instead.
He added: "I would urge the government to review the current system, consider the measures they could take to reduce the costs of family holidays, and help keep children in school."
How have schools tackled the problem?
The table above lists the schools with the highest percentages of 'persistently absent' pupils for 2017/18. These are the most recent figures available on the DfE website.
During that year, Stoke High School - Ormiston Academy had the highest percentage in Suffolk with 25.1%, with an overall absence rate of 8.4%.
A spokeswoman said their data for the last academic year, 2018/19, brings the school in line with the national average for persistent absentees.
"This is down to new systems we have introduced since the appointment of a new principal in January 2019, including investing heavily in a specialist pastoral team, as well as launching 50 new activity clubs which have been incredibly well received by students," she said.
"We are continuing to work hard to build on the progress made so far in boosting attendance, so that all our students have the best possible opportunities to succeed."
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Meanwhile, the Sir Martin Frobisher Academy, run by REACH2, had the highest levels of persistently absent pupils in north Essex with 28.8%, with an overall absence rate of 8.5%.
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A spokeswoman said: "We recognise that persistent absenteeism has been an issue at Sir Martin Frobisher Academy in the past and have put in place a number of approaches to address this, so that working with families our attendance improves.
"As well as regular incentives for good attendance, same day phone calls to parents when children are absent, regular monitoring, letters home for children with low attendance and regular meetings with parents, we have our own mini bus which collects some of our children whose parents do not drive," a school spokeswoman said.
"Our staff also do home visits to children who do not arrive at school without a reason.
"In addition, we offer a free breakfast club which is open from 8am and we are also part of the 'magic breakfast' scheme which offers a free bagel to children when they arrive at school.
She added: "We are very ambitious for our children and we are also currently reviewing and improving our curriculum to make it even more exciting so that no child wants to miss a day off school.
"We are confident that these changes will have an impact over the coming year."
'Every lesson counts' - Education bosses respond
Education chiefs in Suffolk said they will raise the issue with persistent absence with relevant teams and schools.
"Our biggest issue for absence in Suffolk is illness and not term-time holidays," a spokesman said.
"Regarding unauthorised absence, our Education Attendance Service works directly alongside children and young people, their families and schools to improve and sustain school attendance.
"However we can only do this if local authority maintained schools make referrals to us, or academies buy into the service.
"Ultimately, it is the leaders of each school in Suffolk to operate in the best possible way and this latest DfE report suggests that some schools are better at managing absence than others.
The spokesman added: "Our Education Welfare Officers will investigate any unauthorised absence, but again, can only do so if we receive referrals. It is a school's responsibility to make these referrals as they deem appropriate.
"It is the council's responsibility to work as a champion for all Suffolk's children, so we will raise the issue of persistent absence with the relevant teams and schools, to support them in moving forward."
'Rule on term-time holidays is clear' - government
Meanwhile, representatives for the DfE said evidence shows pupils missing lots of lessons tend to fare worse in their exams.
"During term times, the best place for children to be is in school," a spokesman said.
"Evidence shows that pupils with higher overall absence tend to do less well in their GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.
"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."
And Ray Gooding, cabinet member for education and skills at Essex County Council (ECC), said parents have a legal duty to ensure their children attend school regularly.
"ECC has a statutory duty to ensure that this legal obligation is fulfilled, but is the expectation that schools will initially work with parents/carers and support agencies to improve a child's school attendance, accessing all appropriate early intervention programmes and working together to improve and sustain attendance," he said.
"Every lesson really does count and it is important that parents send their child to school so they can access and enjoy all the educational opportunities and experiences and ensure they get the best start to academic life."