A HEADTEACHER has blamed the lure of cheap flights for parents taking children out of school during term.

Susan Tranter, the headteacher of Fitzharrys School in Abingdon, said the fact parents continued to take holidays during term time was still “a matter of concern”.

Her comments came as new figures showed the number of schoolchildren in Oxfordshire regularly missing school had dropped for the second year running.

Mrs Tranter said: “Regrettably, for some parents the lure of cheap flights is too great so they will book a holiday in term time.

“Cheap flights are not a good reason for why a holiday should be taken during term time and, although we do try to work with parents, we do have to apply the rules which class this as unauthorised absence.”

New figures from the autumn and spring terms of 2007/08 show Fitzharrys, which has just under 900 pupils, had the worst record of unauthorised absences at secondary schools in Oxfordshire.

Unauthorised absences are measured as a percentage of all the half days every pupil at schools across the county are expected to attend, but have missed.

For the 2007/08 autumn and spring terms, figures recently released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families showed that at an average of 2.8 per cent of half days were missed by Fitzharrys pupils – the equivalent of roughly eight half-days each.

Mrs Tranter said term-time holidays accounted for virtually all the school’s unauthorised absences and stressed truancy was not an issue at Fitzharrys.

She said: “We are trying to provide children with more work to do when they are on holiday so we can minimise the impact of children missing their crucial education.”

The figures also revealed that at 81 of Oxfordshire’s 234 primary schools there were no unauthorised absences during the two terms.

The school with the highest proportion of unauthorised absence was St Joseph’s Primary School in Carterton, where three per cent of half days were missed without parents giving schools an acceptable reason.

One in 20, or five per cent of schoolchildren in the county, was classed as a persistent absentee — missing school one day a week or more — in the 2007/08 school year.

In all, 798 primary school pupils and 1,825 secondary school pupils were deemed persistently absent.

The previous year, the figure was 5.5 per cent and in 2005/06 it was 6.2 per cent. The figures were lower than the England and South East averages, at 7.34 per cent and 7.43 per cent respectively.

The percentage of half days missed overall had also dropped.

A spokesman for Oxfordshire County Council said: “We have a strong track record of working co-operatively with parents and schools to achieve high attendance levels. On occasions it has been necessary to resort to the courts where persuasion has not worked.

“We are happy with the progress that has been made but will not take our eye off the ball.”