One in seven children in some parts of the region missed large parts of their schooling last year, with Wakefield seeing some of the highest rates across the whole of England.
Truancy is a “bigger concern” than exclusions when it came to rising knife crime, Damian Hinds warned yesterday, admitting progress in addressing the challenge has now “stalled”.
Children could be persistently absent for many reasons, he said, but many are just “skipping school”.
“They may be disillusioned, disengaged or from a home where going to school is just not top priority,” Mr Hinds said, writing in The Daily Telegraph. “It is these children that are most at risk of harm or criminal exploitation.”
New figures, published by the Department of Education, show the rates for Yorkshire over unauthorised and persistent absence is higher than the national average, rising year on year.
In Wakefield, 15 per cent of pupils missed more than 10 per cent of their school sessions last year, compared to nine per cent in nearby Calderdale.
Support was being offered to schools and academies to raise attendance rates, Wakefield Council has said, with welfare officers also working with individuals.
“In some cases we look in detail at some of the difficulties which cause absences and bridge any gap between home and school,” said Andrew Lancashire, director for education and inclusion at the authority.
“This includes fast-track meetings which is an effective initiative and can generate improved attendance swiftly to groups of irregular attenders.
“We have strong links with all of the schools and academies across the district and there is a shared commitment by school leaders and ourselves to tackle this issue.”
The figures come alongside revelations that the number of unauthorised absences nationwide has now risen to the highest level since records began.
Term-time holidays are a key contributor to this, the DfE has said, with the number of fines issued rocketing 75 per cent year on year.
It comes in the wake of uncertainty following high-profile court cases including that of father Jon Platt.
Mr Platt, who took his daughter to Disney World in 2017, had faced a number of battles which were ultimately lost in the Supreme Court.
A rise in fines, the DfE said, could be because councils later gained clarity over the rules from the judgement issued here.
Among the authorities listed as issuing the most fines was Bradford, with 6,687 penalty notices in the last academic year, primarily over term time absences.
Bradford has the largest proportion of children aged under 16 in the country, the council has stressed, making it England’s youngest city.
“No one wants to fine parents, but children’s education must come first,” a spokesman for Bradford Council added,
“Every day that a pupil misses from school will have an impact on their education and their life chances.”