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Bunking off is 'boring' too

"Sometimes I've bunked off lessons 'cos I've thought, 'Oh God, I don't wanna do science', and just gone to the toilets. But if you're bunking off for the whole day, it's not 'cos of the lessons, it's 'cos you've got a problem. "

The speaker is discussing "wagging it" from her perspective as a Year 10 pupil. She is one of 160 disaffected primary and secondary school pupils quoted in a discussion paper published today by the National Foundation for Educational Research.

The report suggests that truancy and disruptive behaviour represent a "flight or fight" response to disaffection, and asks how teachers can counter the factors influencing it.

"Most disaffection had a story linked to it involving learning difficulties, home backgrounds and social problems," said Kay Kinder, one of the researchers.

"There was an acknowledgement of the stressful lives and backgrounds that these children have. That raises questions about pastoral provision and resources to help them."

The youngsters' testimonies revealed that playing truant was often boring. "There is nothing to do, you just go to a cafe and sit down," said one interviewee. "I used to think, 'I wish I was back in school because at least there is something to do'."

The most common explanation for truancy and disruption was peer pressure. Some pupils wanted to fit in with their friends or attract attention; others skipped school to avoid being bullied.

As one Year 10 boy described it, "if your best friend's skiving off school, then you're going to want to do it so that you can hang around with them 'cos you might not have any other friends at school".

Nearly half the sample blamed their behaviour on problems with teachers: a perceived lack of respect or a sense of injustice at being singled out or unfairly blamed.

"Boring" lessons were also mentioned, particularly as a reason for truancy among key stage 3 boys and girls. According to the authors, this raises the possibility that "for some children there is a sequence of disaffection and alienation which has its origins in non-motivating encounters with learning activities and curriculum content before the key stage 4 watershed".

For other pupils, disaffection stemmed from poor classroom discipline or a feeling that their particular learning needs were being ignored. "Many teachers who deal with disaffected children would say the national curriculum has made things worse," Ms Kinder said.

Domestic factors also played a role: either through parentally condoned absence or family problems such as divorce, alcoholism, abuse and bereavement.

Asked to suggest improvements, the youngsters said lessons should include more variety, practical activities and contact with the "real world". They also wanted relationships with their teachers to involve more trust, respect and justice.

Other solutions included better pastoral support - "someone to talk to" Q and changes to the "learning context": smaller classes, shorter lessons, or more help from teachers.

Particular attention was paid to the views of children who had shown signs of overcoming their disaffection - who expressed some recognition of the importance of education, took responsibility for their behaviour or wanted to reverse school or parental displeasure.

Ms Kinder said: "Disaffection seemed to have a variety of causes and intense emotions surrounding it. Where kids seemed to get turned round or recognise they had some responsibility for their behaviour, it was often the result of skilful work in managing behaviour."

Talking Back: pupil views on disaffection, by Kay Kinder, Alison Wakefield and Anne Wilkin. Published by the National Foundation for Educational Research, Pounds 3.50

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