NEARLY 9,000 children were regularly missing from schools across Dorset in the first two terms of last year according to shocking new statistics.

Data from the Department for Education has revealed 11 per cent of pupils were classed as persistently absent, meaning they missed at least 10 per cent of school time.

And head teachers have blamed holiday pricing for the crisis.

In the former Dorset County Council area there were 5,044 such pupils equating to 11 per cent of those enrolled, rising to 13 per cent in secondary schools.

In Bournemouth there were 2,207, 11 per cent of the total and 13 per cent in secondary schools and in Poole the figures were 1,620, 10 per cent of the total and 13 per cent of secondary.

Overall the figures mean the pupils missed at least six days of school between September and Easter.

Around three quarters of the absences were authorised, for illness or medical appointments, but a quarter were unauthorised, including those for truancy or going on holiday in term time.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that missed days can be harmful to a child’s education, and that term-time absence must only be allowed in “exceptional circumstances”.

But he said the system of fines, whereby councils can hand parents £60 penalties for their child’s unauthorised absence, is a blunt instrument that often “drives a wedge between schools and families”.

He added: “The real problem is holiday pricing. Neither parents nor schools set the prices of holidays.

“They will both continue to be caught between a rock and hard place without some sensible government intervention.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Tackling persistent absence is a priority for the Government and it is encouraging to see a decrease in persistent and overall absence compared to last year.

“The rules on term-time absences are clear. No child should be taken out of school without good reason.

“We have put head teachers back in control by supporting them – and local authorities – to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence.”

Councillor Sandra Moore, cabinet member for children and families at BCP Council said: “Good attendance at school is essential in ensuring that children have the best opportunity to fulfil their potential.

“Research shows that poor school attendance can lead to children achieving lower grades in exams and finding it difficult to make and keep friendships.

“We are working closely with schools and families to address the causes of poor attendance and ensure that all children across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole have the brightest possible future.”