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

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

Department for Education data shows that 2,490 pupils at state primaries and secondaries in Southend were classed as persistently absent in the autumn 2018 and spring 2019 terms – 10 per cent of those enrolled.

The figure for those regularly missing classes stays the same when secondary schools are considered alone.

The overall persistent absence rate was in line with 2017-18, bucking the national trend.

But it was less than in 2007-08, when the rate across England was nearly twice as high.

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

Authorised absences, such as for illness or medical appointments, accounted for 74 per cent of 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 quarter of unauthorised absences.

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

But he said the system of fines, whereby 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.”

In total, Cambridgeshire’s state schools lost about 127,000 days of teaching during the two terms.

A DfE 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.”