The rate of students in Swindon who are persistently absent from school has doubled since the pandemic hit.

Department for Education figures show that 6,938 students in state-funded schools across Swindon missed a tenth or more of sessions, accounting for 20.5 per cent of the 33,798 students enrolled in the area during the 2022-23 academic year.

This figure was up significantly from 10.2 per cent in 2018-19, before the pandemic.

In 2022-23, 818,000 of 11,283,000 school sessions were missed.

Of these absences, 240,000 (2.1 per cent) were unauthorised - up from 1.2 per cent in 2018-19.

Nationally, the level of unauthorised absences went from 1.4 per cent of sessions in 2018-19 to 2.4 per cent in the last academic year.

School leaders’ union NAHT's general secretary Paul Whiteman said: "School leaders and teachers are doing all they can to reverse the increase in pupils who are persistently absent post-pandemic, and we are pleased to see the number of children coming back into school is moving in the right direction.

"However, absence rates are still significantly higher than before Covid, and much more needs to be done to bring them down."

"If the government is serious about getting more pupils back into the classroom, there must be a significant bolstering of funding for the services that support schools including children’s social care, and mental health."

School absence fines for unauthorised absences currently start at £60, rising to £120 if they are not paid within 21 days. From this autumn, they will instead start at £80, rising to £160.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Advertising slogans and attendance hubs are just not going to make a tangible difference to pupils who are missing days or weeks of school at a time. We have to be far more ambitious."

He added: "If absence rates remain at these levels then the future prospects of thousands of young people are going to be jeopardised. They quite simply deserve better."

A DfE spokesperson said: "Thanks to our fantastic teachers and school leaders, and our package of wide-ranging reforms designed to support schools to improve attendance, we are already seeing rapid improvement.

"We know that some children face greater barriers to attendance, like pupils with long term medical conditions or special educational needs and disabilities, which is why our guidance ensures schools work with pupils and families to respond to each pupils' individual needs."