Camden schools get top marks for skiving

SECONDARY school pupils in Camden are more likely to bunk off classes than those in the rest of the country

Ben McPartland

SECONDARY school pupils in Camden are more likely to bunk off classes than those in the rest of the country.

Figures released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) this week show the number of unauthorised absences by pupils at Camden schools is above the national average.

Across the country 1.4 per cent of school time (measured in half days) is missed on average because children are skipping school without permission but in Camden the figure is 2.4 per cent.

And the statistics are worse for some individual schools. The percentage of half days missed at Chalk Farm's Haverstock is 3.4 per cent, Hampstead 3.8 per cent and the school with the worst attendance record is South Camden where the figure is 4.9 per cent.

But Hampstead headteacher Jacques Szemalikowski does not believes the statistics tell the full story. He said: "At Hampstead we don't authorise absences for any reason unless it is truly educational. Because all our absences are unauthorised our statistics will be naturally higher.

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"We could quite easily reduce it by authorising certain ones. We often get requests from parents wanting us to allow their child to have time off to visit relatives but we don't authorise any of those as a matter of principle. We believe students need to be in school every lesson, every day. Our attendance has gone up this year from 87 per cent to 91 per cent which is a huge jump.

"We have a text service so we can send messages to parents when their children have not turned up and we have also appointed an attendance officer."

The truancy figures show other secondaries in a good light with only 0.4 per cent of time missed at Camden School for Girls in Kentish Town and 0.8 per cent at La Sainte Union on Highgate Road. Only 0.2 per cent of half days were missed at William Ellis school because of unauthorised absences.

Camden's school's chief Cllr Andrew Mennear said he was taking the issue of truancy seriously. He said: "We have been looking at attendance generally and we recognise it is something which is holding back the performance of our pupils. If they are not in school then they are not going to be learning or getting good exam results.

"We have been putting in place a number of measures which are beginning to see improvements. Our overall rate of attendance did go up last year by 0.9 per cent in primary schools and 0.6 per cent in secondary schools. This is the first year of results after our push on attendance. We have asked schools to ask more questions of the pupils about why they need to be absent. This might have bumped up the number of unauthorised absences. It's a big issue and we are taking a close look at it in the months ahead.