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Don't send parents to jail

Teachers believe inclusion is the best way to tackle truancy and bad behaviour

MOST TEACHERS do not believe jailing parents, handing out on-the-spot fines or anti-social behaviour orders will reduce high absenteeism rates, latest research reveals.

Meanwhile, in a report out this week, Welsh inspectorate Estyn is recommending that schools which exclude pupils "too readily" should face financial sanctions.

Professor Ken Reid, a truancy expert from Swansea Institute, found that many teachers heap blame on parents for truancy - especially those who condone it and take their children on holiday during term time.

One in seven heads thinks that significant court fines, which parents could not escape paying, might help. But on-the-spot penalties were thought to be ineffective by school staff questioned in Wales and England, along with other punitive measures.

Most felt that inclusion was more of an effective weapon in tackling truancy. The creation of more and better alternative programmes in the curriculum to re-engage disruptive pupils was also seen as essential.

"Only a small minority of teaching staff believe that by missing school the truant has opted out of education and should be ready to accept the full consequences," said Professor Reid.

"Most believe that in an era of social inclusion everything possible should be done to help the truant or non-attendee to re-integrate."

At present, he is heading up a Wales-wide review into truancy and bad behaviour.

Inclusion is seen as the way to tackle problem pupils in the Assembly government document, The Learning Country: Vision Into Action, published last year. Inspectors from Estyn also recently looked at how schools were responding to guidance on exclusions. It was found that most were making good use of the advice and aimed to improve pupil behaviour.

But permanent and fixed-term exclusions have also risen significantly in Wales since 1990.

Susan Lewis, chief inspector, said: "Between 1999 and 2005, fixed-term exclusions increased by 150 per cent. Underachievement is often accompanied by problems with bad behaviour and attendance. Parents and communities must help pupils understand the benefits of a good education."

The report also says that local authorities that run nurture groups - sessions held with the pupil and their family - are helping to develop better attitudes towards learning. Time-out rooms for pupils who may otherwise have been excluded can also have good results. They are kept away from other children to cool down.

Dr Heledd Hayes, education officer for the NUT Cymru, said: "Exclusion is widely felt to be the last resort. But sometimes that, or transfer to another school, can have positive benefits. Some schools might also not have the resources for a time-out room."

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