Thousands more pupils across the region will be placed in the worst category of school truants as part of a new Government crackdown on absenteeism.
Ministers have unveiled plans to widen the net to place many more youngsters in the troublesome bracket of “persistent absentee”, which will force schools to take action sooner.
The move was criticised by teaching unions, who said the “arbitrary targets” would have no real effect.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the definition of persistent absence used in the school performance league tables would be cut from 20 to 15 per cent – to deal with the “reality” of pupils skipping school and the impact it has on learning.
He believes tightening the criteria from October to include those who miss 15 per cent of their classes – the equivalent of a month’s schooling each year – will mean a national increase from 184,000 to 430,000.
As things stand, 4.2 per cent of pupils in Bristol are classed as “persistent absentees”, compared to 2.6 per cent in the South West and a national average of 2.9 per cent.
Wiltshire (2.9 per cent), Bath & North East Somerset and Bournemouth (both
2.8) and Somerset (2.7) are worse than the regional average, while Dorset and North Somerset are identical to it.
Devon, Gloucestershire and Swindon all have “persistent absentee” rates of 2.3 per cent, while South Gloucestershire has the West’s best record, at
2.1 per cent.
Mr Gibb says lowering the threshold will ensure schools take action sooner to deal with absence and believes it could be lowered further over time.
He said: “We know that children who are absent for substantial parts of their education fall behind their friends and struggle to catch up.
“By changing the threshold on persistent absence, we are encouraging schools to crack down on persistent absenteeism.”
Mr Gibb continued: “We will be setting out over the coming months stronger powers for schools to use if they wish to send a clear message to parents that persistent absence is unacceptable.”
Experts say there is clear evidence of a link between poor attendance at school and low levels of achievement.
Of pupils who miss between ten and 20 per cent of school, only 35 per cent manage to achieve five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This is another example of using accountability targets as an ineffective replacement for effective strategies to address the issues.”