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Clock ticking for truants

An estimated 1 million children play truant every year, a figure the Government wants to cut by a third by 2002.

As with exclusions, the individual targets will be set for local authorities, with the toughest for the poorest performers. Legislation going through Parliament will give ministers the power to set targets for individual schools and data will be published on their performance.

Police will get new powers to pick up truants in public places. They can only do so at present if a child is in danger or committing an offence. An amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill, also going through Parliament, will give a police officer the power to take truants back to school or another place designated by the authority.

The Bill will also enable courts to impose parenting orders for up to 12 months. These could require a parent to take their child to school every day or to attend parenting classes.

Parents play a key role in truancy, the report shows, sometimes condoning it for family shopping trips or to help look after younger siblings. One study found that 44 per cent of truants believed their parents knew they were skipping school, while 48 per cent of non-truants said they were held back by fear of their parents finding out.

For children in care, of whom nearly one in three may be out of mainstream education through exclusion or truancy, the Government intends to set new attainment targets. Half should achieve a qualification by 2001 and three-quarters by 2003.

'Truancy and School Exclusion' report by the Social Exclusion Unit, available from the Stationery Office,Cm 3957, pound;7.

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