SUNDERLAND schools have some of the highest truancy rates in the country, according to a new report.
Figures from the Department for Education showed nine per cent of primary and secondary school pupils in the city are classified as persistent absentees.
The study reveals a total of 3,009 youngsters of all ages apparently skipped lessons without permission in the autumn and spring terms.
Nottingham has the highest rate with 11.8 per cent, followed by Hull with 10.8.
The City of London, 3.9 per cent, and Rutland, 4.9 per cent, have the lowest levels.
The national average is 7.2 per cent.
Today, education chiefs on Wearside defended their record in tackling the problem.
Mike Foster, Sunderland Council’s deputy executive director of children’s services, said: “We recognise how important it is for children and young people to have a consistent and uninterrupted education, which is highlighted when we compare academic achievement for pupils with good attendance records and those without.
“Truancy from school is often linked with issues outside of school, so it is even more important that we work with our partners to ensure we identify and intervene with children early enough to make a difference.
“I am confident that through our combined efforts we will make that difference and will see an improvement in attendance.”
He added: “Parents need to realise that allowing their children to miss school without good reason is unacceptable and could end in prosecution.”
In the North East, 8.4 per cent of primary and secondary school pupils are classified as persistent absentees, the highest percentage in the country.
The highest absenteeism rate in the region was in Newcastle, 10.5 per cent, closely followed by Middlesbrough with 9.9 per cent.
Redcar and Cleveland, and Darlington, had the best figures in the region.
Children are now deemed to be persistent absentees if they miss 15 per cent or more of school time.
Vince Allen, regional officer for the National Union of Teachers, said the North East historically had a poor record of truancy, which he believed reflected young people’s perceptions of their chance at entering the employment market once they had finished education.
“Can something be done in the short-term to tackle the problem?” he said.
“I’m not sure that with the budget cuts faced by local authorities, they are able to channel more resources to collaboratively working with parents to get to the route of the problem.”
Nationally, 450,330 children are classified as persistent absentees.
Experts say much of the work missed when pupils are off school is never made up and that there is evidence of a link between poor attendance and low levels of achievement.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the figures revealed the “worrying extent of absenteeism”, but the Government was encouraging schools to crack down on the problem before it escalated.