THOUSANDS of children across Southampton and Hampshire are missing the equivalent of a month of school each year, new figures have revealed.

Nearly 9,000 youngsters in the city and county are classed as “persistently absent” based on statistics from spring and last autumn.

Only three places in the country had higher levels of truancy than Southampton during the two terms, where 1,758 primary and secondary school pupils missed at least 15 per cent of lessons.

In Hampshire, more than 7,000 children repeatedly failed to attend classes.

Experts warn the work youngsters miss out on when they aren’t in school is never made up, leaving them seriously disadvantaged throughout their education.

Charlie Taylor, the Government’s adviser on behaviour in schools, said: “Quickly these children begin to fall behind their friends and often fail to fill in gaps in their skills or knowledge – sometimes in basics like reading or writing. Over time these pupils can become bored and disillusioned with education.

These pupils are lost to the system, and can fall into antisocial behaviour and crime.”

Virtually one in ten of Southampton’s secondary school pupils missed 15 per cent of lessons or more during the two terms – significantly higher than the national average.

Department for Education statistics show levels of authorised absence in Southampton and Hampshire are similar to the rates for England as a whole.

But the amount of time off without prior permission is much greater in Southampton than in the county and nationally.

At primary level, 1.1 per cent of lessons at city schools are missed without authorisation, against 0.4 per cent in Hampshire.

And in secondary schools, Southampton pupils failed to attend 1.6 per cent of classes without permission, compared to 0.7 per cent of county children.

But the absence rates are improving, and Southampton’s education boss Cllr Sarah Bogle last night said she believes the picture will continue to get better.

She said: “Schools are working very hard with parents to improve school attendance and overall attendance is improving.

“While disappointed that more progress has not been made, we are confident future years will show the levels of improvement we all want to see.”

Hampshire’s schools chief, Councillor Roy Perry, said he was pleased absence rates were falling.

He said: “Hampshire schools work hard to ensure that pupils attend school and that any problems are addressed quickly so that parents are aware and to avoid bad habits starting.”