The number of pupils bunking off school in the West Midlands increased last year despite millions of pounds of public money spent on tackling truancy.

On every day during the 192-day academic year, there were more than 750 pupils playing truant in the region, according to figures released yesterday.

It meant a fifth of youngsters skived school without a valid reason for at least a day. The proportion in the previous year was about a sixth.

The regional rise mirrored the biggest increase in truancy rates ever.

Ministers last night admitted the findings were "disappointing" and blamed a "stubborn minority" of 8,000 persistent offenders nationwide at 146 schools across the country.

Last night Ministers refused to name what schools were among the 146 with the worst truancy problems. But a spokeswoman said it would be fair to assume a proportion would be based in the Midlands.

Schools Minister and MP for Redditch Jacqui Smith said: "While the causes of truancy are complex and challenging, we will focus on this minority who are responsible for much of unauthorised absence."

The gloomy picture nationally was tempered by good news in Birmingham where the proportion of half days missed due to truancy at secondary level fell 0.12 per cent to 1.46 per cent, its lowest recorded level.

But the figure was nevertheless much higher than the national average for all schools of 0.79 per cent.

And it still meant more than a third of the authority's 65,000 secondary pupils took an average of more than six days off without permission, according to figures from the Department for Education and Skills.

At primary level, there was a 0.1 per cent rise in truancy, with more than a quarter of the city's 86,866 pupils bunking off an average of four days in 2004/05.

The rate for half days missed at primaries was a below-average 0.65 per cent.

Education chiefs in Birmingham point out overall attendance rates in the city had risen for the ninth year, to 94.3 per cent at primary level and 92.4 per cent at secondary.

But the authority echoed a Government warning to parents who allow their children to bunk off school.

Birmingham's cabinet member for education Les Lawrence (Con Northfield) said: "Parents must be under no illusion that when necessary legal sanctions will apply to reinforce the message that they have a clear role in ensuring their children attend school."

A total of 144,600 pupils were truant across the West Midlands last year out of a total pupil population of 724,831.

As well as Birmingham, Sandwell and Stoke-on-Trent were revealed as authorities struggling to keep youngsters at school.

Increased truancy rates in Stoke saw more than 5 , 500 out of 14 , 800 secondary pupils playing truant for an average of 8.5 days while at primary level 3,700 out of 17,000 pupils took an average of 4.5 days off without consent.

In Sandwell 4,300 primary pupils out of the 23,200 total skived off an average of four days while at secondary level 7,000 pupils out of 19,000 skipped an average of eight days each.

At the other end of the scale was Worcestershire. Only 3,200 out of 32,500 primary schoolchildren bunked off, though the proportion was higher at secondary level with 8,389 out of 37,790 skiving.