NEARLY 5,000 children were persistently absent from secondary schools across Dorset last year, each missing at least 19 days of teaching.

Figures from the Department for Education show more than 1,000 children from Bournemouth, 700 from Poole and 3,000 from Dorset county fell into this category.

The numbers reveal that 15 per cent of state secondary pupils in the Bournemouth and Dorset council areas, and 11 per cent in Poole, missed at least 10 per cent of their allotted teaching time in the 2016/17 academic year.

State secondary schools are required to provide a minimum of 190 days of teaching each year.

In total, Bournemouth’s secondary schools lost 92,000 days of teaching over the academic year, Poole’s 66,000 and Dorset’s 268,000.

School officials authorised between 70-80 per cent of the time that pupils were absent from secondary schools, most commonly for illness or medical appointments.

The remainder was unauthorised, and includes periods of truancy and unauthorised family holidays.

The government defines children as persistently absent if they miss 10 per cent of their classes.

In primary schools fewer than 10 per cent of pupils were regularly absent in all three authority areas.

Nationally, the highest levels of persistently absent pupils in England were found in Knowsley, Merseyside, where 23 per cent of state secondary pupils missed 10 per cent of their classes.

Across England, 14 per cent of students in state secondary schools and eight per cent in primary were persistently absent.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Children only get one chance at an education and evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs.

“The rules on term-time absences are clear and we have put schools back in control by supporting them - and local authorities - to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence.”

Local councils can impose fines of £60 on parents who fail to ensure their children’s attendance at school, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

A little over half of absent time across all state schools in the country was attributed to illness last year, eight per cent to unauthorised family holiday and double that to other unauthorised circumstances, including truancy.

Just under 50 per cent of all pupils had five or fewer days absence.