The minister was commenting after the publication of a statistical bulletin showing an overall declining trend in absence in schools.
* The total percentage absence from secondary schools in 2002/3 was 10.75 per cent, down from 11.08 the previous year and the lowest rate since 1995/6. This includes a decrease in authorised absence from 9.57 to 9.32 per cent and a decrease in unauthorised absence from 1.51 to 1.43 per cent.
* The total percentage absence for primary schools in 2002/3 was 5.12 per cent, a marginal change on the previous year (0.05%) and lower than most earlier years.
Mr Peacock said:
'Today's figures highlight a gradual and declining trend in absence from school and show that unauthorised absences - including truancy - are very low at an average of 0.8 per cent of the total. Despite this declining trend, we want to see both reduced further. Missing school for any reason can have long term consequences. Missing class today can have a high price tomorrow.
'We are working hard to ensure that schools are a place where pupils want to be and learn by tackling one of the key causes of poor attendance - pupil disaffection. We want to ensure pupils are offered more flexible learning and development opportunities so their education experience is more relevant to their needs.
'As part of this, we are undertaking a major review of the curriculum from age three to 18 and a review of the links between schools and colleges to help give older pupils broader curriculum choices.
'However, the executive alone cannot tackle unauthorised or authorised school absence. It is important that parents - who have a duty to ensure their child receives an education - work with schools to address all forms of non attendance. Ceasing to take children out of school for holidays during term time, unless completely unavoidable, is just one way parents can help.'
The executive is currently funding a number of initiatives aimed at, or impacting on, school attendance and absence, for example: the Scottish Schools Ethos Network - which shares good practice in promoting a positive ethos in schools; the Anti-Bullying Network - based around sharing good practice and providing advice in dealing with issues of bullying in schools; Support for Parents - an Excellence Fund programme which supports measures to encourage parents to become involved in their children's education; Study Support - an Excellence Fund programme aimed at making available out-of-school hours learning opportunities; and the New Community Schools Excellence Fund special programme which has twin aims of promoting social inclusion and raising education standards.
These are in addition to many innovative approaches to tackle non-attendance which have been developed by individual schools and education authorities.
Section 30 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 states that it is ultimately the duty of parents to ensure they provide appropriate education for their school age children, either by sending them to school or other means. Once a child is registered and begins attending school, the parents must also ensure he/she attends regularly. As a last resort, parents who fail to comply with the Act may face a fine and/or prison sentence.
COSLA response SCHOOL ABSENCES: PARENTS ROLE VITAL