Norwich truancy rate shock

Kim BriscoeMore than one in 20 pupils in Norwich are missing a fifth of the school year, new figures show.Education bosses have vowed to crackdown on persistent truants after it emerged Norwich is ranked fifth worst in England for the percentage of its pupils with an attendance of 80pc or less.Kim Briscoe

More than one in 20 pupils in Norwich are missing a fifth of the school year, new figures show.

Education bosses have vowed to crackdown on persistent truants after it emerged Norwich is ranked fifth worst in England for the percentage of its pupils with an attendance of 80pc or less.

Only Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Portsmouth and Southampton have worse records when it came to kids regularly skipping school.

The latest figures for truancy, for the year ending July 2009 and released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), show that 5.2pc of Norwich's pupils are persistent truants, compared to England's 3.3pc and Norfolk's 3.6pc.

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Norfolk County Council admits persistent absence is too high is some areas of the county, and is getting tough on parents who fail to ensure their children are regularly attending school.

It took 267 prosecutions against parents in the last academic year, and has already taken another 230 parents to court so far this year.

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Shelagh Hutson, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for children's services, said: "We have been working intensively to bring down levels of persistent and overall absence in Norfolk and have seen a significant drop over the last year, which has been greater than the reduction nationally.

"We know that levels of persistent absence remain high in some areas of the county, particularly in Norwich. However, the support we have been offering to schools, pupils and parents has seen a five percentage point drop over the last two years in the number of secondary school students who regularly do not attend school - the second biggest drop nationally.

"Tackling persistent absence is our absolute priority as attendance is so closely linked with children's aspirations and achievements and we have been using a range of measures, including support to parents and schools, to try to ensure that those on the school roll attend regularly.

"The real focus has been on intervening early and schools are looking very closely at their pupil data to see where issues are emerging. It is important to tackle the reasons for each individual child's poor attendance before they become a persistent absentee.

"Secondary schools are also working closely with primary schools to identify particular families or groups of children who may need specific support.'

She added: "Although the latest figures show we are moving in the right direction, persistent absence still remains too high in the county so it is vital for us to act to ensure that children are getting the education they deserve."

The DCSF says research shows that children who are not in school are most vulnerable and are easily drawn into crime.

Truants are more likely than others to leave school with few or no qualifications and are more likely to be out of work and become homeless.

Lucy Hamilton, assistant headteacher at Norwich's Sewell Park College, said their students had become very aware that they need good attendance records to get sought-after college places or to impress employers in a tough jobs market.

She said: 'One pupil recently was surprised that when she went for a college interview the first think they ask was what her attendance was. If you want to do a popular course then it will be one of the first things they will look at to start whittling people out.'

Sewell Park operates a 100pc weekly lottery, where pupils with 100pc attendance for that week can win a reward.

Mrs Hamilton said they had also changed their half-termly reports to parents to include how many days and weeks each child has missed through absence.

She said: 'Rather than saying they have a certain percentage of attendance, it really shows how those few days here and there can add up and mean they have missed two weeks of a seven-week term and it has brought it home to people.'

The school has made great strides in improving its attendance in 2008-09 and it hopes to have continued that downward trend but it is unlikely to be quite so dramatic this year, partly due to the swine flu outbreak which kept some pupils off sick.

Naomi Palmer, of Gorleston's Oriel High School said: 'At Oriel we have made a strong commitment to raising attendance and ensuring families are informed of the correct procedures and processes - there has been a real sea-change in the awareness parents have of the importance of good attendance and the detrimental effect that holidays in term-time have on progress.

'We have maintained a focus on celebrating good attendance by ensuring positive messages are sent home and the attendance lottery has proved to be popular as a treat for achieving 100pc."

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