A government report has criticised education officials for responding too slowly to potential student dropouts, taking more than three months to open a file in about a fifth of cases in the past two years. The report on attendance at public schools - part of the Director of Audit's investigation into value for money that was tabled in the Legislative Council yesterday - found absentee levels were generally low, but said there was room for improvement. It found there had been long delays in responding to thousands of suspected cases of school dropouts, due largely to tardy reporting. The Education and Manpower Bureau's Non-Attendance Case (NAC) team looked into 12,401 suspected dropout cases in the 2004-5 and 2005-6 school years. Of those, 7,114 were students who had transferred out of a school but failed to register with a new one. The report found it had taken more than 100 days for the bureau to begin investigating in more than 18 per cent of these cases. 'In view of the large number of school transfers reported by schools which turn out to be suspected dropout cases, Audit considers that the EMB needs to provide more guidance to schools in reporting school transfers,' the report said. While most of the delays could also be attributed to schools failing to report on time, the report criticised the NAC team for failing to stick to its stipulated time frame for following up on suspected cases. An EMB spokesman said many of the issues raised had been addressed, including a directive requiring schools to inform the EMB within seven days of a student's departure. He added that the bureau welcomed the report and would implement its recommendations.