Thousands of children were regularly missing from Swindon’s schools during the first two terms last year, new figures reveal.

Department for Education data showed that 3,032 pupils at state primaries and secondaries in Swindon were classed as persistently absent in the autumn 2018 and spring 2019 terms.

This accounts for a tenth, or 10 per cent, of the total number of pupils enrolled in schools across the town.

When considering only Swindon secondary school pupils. this figure climbs to 14 per cent of the total amount of young people enrolled.

On average, Swindon pupils missed five days of school in the first two terms last year.

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

He suggested that the system of fines, where 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.”

The overall persistent absence rate dropped, from 12 per cent in 2017-18, in line with the national trend. It was also less than in 2007-08, when the rate across England was nearly twice as high.

Authorised absences, such as for illness or medical appointments, accounted for 77 per cent of the time off. The rest were unauthorised, including those for truancy or arriving late.

Family holidays, for which permission was not given by the school, made up more than a fifth of unauthorised absences.

Across England, the rate of persistently absent pupils, who miss at least 10 per cent of school time, dropped slightly, but only back to 2015-16 levels.

The total number of days missed due to absence was 41 million and the average number of days missed per enrolment was 5.8 days.

A Department for Education 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.”