2,000 persistent truants miss a month of school every year in the South West
More than 2,000 pupils at just 32 schools in Devon and Cornwall are skipping school so often that they miss a month's lessons each year, figures have revealed.
One MP said the figures were "deeply worrying" and urged parents to take more responsibility for making sure their children got the education that they need.
Published figures for the last full school year show the scale of "persistent absentees" in England's schools.
At more than 1,600 schools nationally, one in ten pupils play truant to the extent that they are not attending for a full month in a year.
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This includes 32 schools in the Cornwall, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay local education authority areas – including 15 primary and 17 secondary schools. Between them, 2,211 pupils are regarded as "persistent absentees" for missing more than 15% of lessons.
Under rules introduced last September, headteachers can now impose a £60 spot fine on parents who condone truancy, up from £50 under the Labour government. But ministers have been urged to go further and consider docking child benefit from parents who refuse to pay fines.
Tory MP Andrew Griffiths, who revealed the figures in parliament, said: "It is deeply worrying to uncover that so many pupils are missing vital days of schooling. Of course the teachers and schools have a role to play in tackling absences but it is also the responsibility of parents to make sure that their children attend school to get the education that they require."
Education Secretary Michael Gove has warned of an "educational underclass" of children who will never spend enough time in school.
Challenged over the coalition's record on attendance recently, Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said: "The Government agreed [Behaviour Czar] Charlie Taylor's recommendation to tackle truancy by improving pupils' overall attendance, and by focusing in primary schools to tackle poor attendance early. And we have uprated the penalty fines for parents who shirk their responsibility to ensure their children attend school." The Department for Education insisted that overall levels of persistent absenteeism had fallen from 8.6% in 2006-07 to 6.1% in 2010-11.
Among secondary schools, those recording the highest levels were, in Devon Bideford College (12.3% persistent absenteeism), in Cornwall Hayle Community School (11.7%), in Plymouth All Saints Church of England Academy (17.8%) and in Torbay Torquay Community College (13.4%).
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Poor attendance at school can have a permanent and damaging effect on a child's education and development.
"That is why we have lowered the persistent absence threshold so schools tackle the problem earlier – and in fact the number of pupils persistently absent has continuously fallen over the last five years."