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