Unauthorised absences from school will be a major priority for Bradford Council in the coming year, as figures revealed that almost six per cent of the district’s school children miss at least 15 per cent of school.

New figures from the Department for Education reveal that over the 2012/13 academic year, 4,407 children in the district were classed as “persistent absentees” – around 5.8 per cent of all school age children.

In secondary schools the proportion is even higher – 8.2 per cent.

Overall 5.6 per cent of school sessions were missed by children being off school – the highest figure of any West Yorkshire authority. Of those, 3.9 per cent were authorised absences but 1.7 per cent were not sanctioned by the school. The national average for unauthorised absence was just one per cent.

A harder line has been taken towards truancy and unauthorised absence in the past year, with more penalty notices issued to parents in Bradford who took their children out of school without a good excuse.

The DfE’s figures show that in the 2012/13 academic year, primary attendance fell from 95.3 per cent to 95.1 per cent, the first year-on-year drop in four years, while secondary attendance fell from 93.5 per cent to 93.3 per cent – the first drop in seven years.

Coun Malcolm Sykes is chairman of the Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee, which he says will look into the make-up of persistent absenteeism. He added: “We need to look into the figures and see how much of it is down to illness and how much is children not going to school.

“It is the kids who are not in school that are missing out, but it can affect how a school does in its Ofsted inspections.”

On the increase in fines for parents of children off without permission, he added: “If it makes a difference and pressurises parents to make sure their kids are in school then its good, but it is only a deterrent if we let people know about it. If we publicise how many parents have been fined on a regular basis it will make parents much more aware.”

Coun Ralph Berry, executive for children’s services on the council, said it was an unwillingness on the council’s part to let unauthorised absences slide that led to the figures rising. He added: “We have to make sure we take a rigorous approach to absence and the consequence to taking a tough line is you sometimes get a report with these types of figures. This is a serious issue that needs to be tackled.

“At times schools try and make figures look good and could turn a blind eye to absences, but it is not about that, it is about accurately recording absences.”