'Banding' Hailed for Cutting Absence in Secondary Schools; FIGURES SHOW ABSENTEEISM DROP FOR THE SEVENTH YEAR

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Byline: GARETH EVANS Education Correspondent gareth.evans@walesonline.co.uk

THE Welsh Government has hailed the impact of secondary school "banding" in helping to reduce pupil absence, as figures revealed a fall in the number of pupils missing lessons.

Latest statistics show the overall rate of absence in maintained secondary schools in Wales has dropped for the seventh year in a row, with just 7.4% of sessions missed in 2012-13.

Unauthorised absences - those without permission from an authorised representative of the school - were also down, with 1.3% of secondary sessions missed by pupils aged 16 and under.

Education unions welcomed the strides being made by teachers to keep pupils in Welsh classrooms - but doubted whether banding was responsible.

The controversial ranking system places strong focus on school attendance and those with fewer absences are more likely to feature at the higher end of the scale.

Banding, which considers a range of school data along with exam results, went live in December 2011 and groups the nation's secondaries into one of five bands.

Band one schools are considered best-performing, while Band five schools are considered weak and in need of more support. Those in lower bands tend to have attendance rates in the bottom 25% of schools in Wales.

Figures show overall secondary school absence rates were as high as 9.9% in 2005-06, when the percentage of school sessions missed without permission was 1.7%.

Girls continue to have a higher rate of overall absence than boys, though the gap has been narrowing since 2008-09 and girls and boys had the same rate of unauthorised absence last year.

A breakdown by local authority shows Blaenau Gwent has had the highest rate of overall absenteeism from maintained secondary and special schools since 2010-11. Last year, 9% of all half-day sessions were missed in the region.

Cardiff lays claim to the highest rate of unauthorised absences (2.5%) above Blaenau Gwent (2.3%), though both have improved on figures recorded in 2011-12.

Flintshire, Carmarthenshire and Neath Port Talbot had the lowest rate of unauthorised absence from maintained secondary and special schools (all 0. …