ONE IN nine pupils were absent from schools in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole before the Easter holidays, new figures show.

The Association of School and College Leaders said it is concerned by high absence rates across England and urged the Government to increase investment in services for disadvantaged children most at risk of missing school.

Department for Education figures show at least 3,320 pupils were absent from state-funded schools in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole in the last week of March, just before the Easter holidays.

That equated to 11.3 per cent of all pupils from the schools which responded to the survey that week.

A total of 13.7 per cent of pupils were absent from secondary schools in the area and 7.6 per cent from primary schools.

Pupils can be listed as absent for any reason, including general sickness, contracting Covid-19, isolating as a positive contact, and any other disciplinary issue or unexpected absence.

However, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said: "It is very clear that Covid is continuing to wreak havoc and it is hard for schools to operate under these conditions."

He added pupils from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds have been unfairly hit by the pandemic, and the high rate of absence is because they have become "disengaged from education".

In Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, 16.1 per cent of children eligible for free school meals were absent from school before the Easter break.

Mr Barton urged the Government to increase investment in attendance and pastoral services to aid schools' efforts to support vulnerable children.

The Department for Education said it is focused on increasing school attendance to ensure "every child gets the best possible education, no matter where in the country they live."

A DfE spokesperson said it is pushing forward with plans to require schools to have an attendance policy that must meet national standards.

They added the department has also introduced attendance advisors to support local authorities and academy trusts and will continue to implement best practice among social workers, mental health practitioners and other health officials.