22,000 pupils went AWOL in f irst week of new term

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Femail - By Gareth Rose SCOT­TISH PO­LIT­I­CAL EDITOR

THOU­SANDS of pupils missed the be­gin­ning of the new school year, amid fears that par­ents are tak­ing their chil­dren away on cheaper termtime hol­i­days.

Fig­ures ob­tained by The Scot­tish Mail on Sun­day show there were at least 22,000 unau­tho­rised ab­sences in the first week of the new term.

One teach­ers’ union said it was ‘un­der­stand­able’ that par­ents wanted to take ad­van­tage of cheaper hol­i­days – but urged them to miss the end of the school year, rather than the start.

In some schools, nearly a tenth of pupils were ab­sent, ac­cord­ing to Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion fig­ures. In Mo­ray, For­res Acad­emy had a 91.9 per cent at­ten­dance rate on the Fri­day of the first week, while on two days El­gin Acad­emy had around 93 per cent, with dozens of unau­tho­rised ab­sences, not in­clud­ing days off through ill health.

Hol­i­days can dou­ble in price dur­ing school hol­i­day dates, and yes­ter­day the Scot­tish Govern­ment urged travel firms to in­tro­duce ‘fairer’ prices for sum­mer hol­i­days.

Sea­mus Sear­son, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Scot­tish Sec­ondary Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, said sum­mer hol­i­days are im­por­tant for fam­i­lies and chil­dren – but a night­mare for teach­ers if they hap­pen in term time. ‘If you’re pre­par­ing for the year, you set the scene for what’s hap­pen­ing in the first week, par­tic­u­larly in the se­nior stage,’ he said.

‘If young­sters are miss­ing, for what­ever rea­son, teach­ers have to do back-up work and pre­pare for when they do come back to class.

‘If the pupils miss time and get be­hind then they can get frus­trated and dis­en­gaged, so it’s im­por­tant they’re there from the start.’

He said it was un­der­stand­able that chil­dren are taken out of school for cheaper sum­mer breaks ‘but they’ve got six weeks of sum­mer hol­i­day. At the same time, it would be bet­ter if they took hol­i­days be­fore school fin­ished, rather than in Septem­ber.’

A spokes­woman for the EIS teach­ers’ union said: ‘Large amounts of unau­tho­rised ab­sence can have a dam­ag­ing ef­fect on the ed­u­ca­tion of pupils. Of­ten, pupils will have sig­nif­i­cant dif­fi­culty in catch­ing up with school work af­ter a pe­riod of ab­sence.’

Mo­ray coun­cil said it did not pe­nalise par­ents of chil­dren who were ab­sent with­out good rea­son, but in Glas­gow the city coun­cil takes around 150 fam­i­lies a year to court for pupils fail­ing to at­tend.

A city coun­cil spokes­woman said: ‘At­ten­dance is at an all-time high across Glas­gow and is a key pri­or­ity. If chil­dren are not in school, they are not learn­ing.’

‘Dam­ag­ing ef­fect on their ed­u­ca­tion’

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