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Head says shaming does not help

A school's public humiliation in topping the "truancy league table" has made it even harder to deal with its problems, according to the headteacher.

Neil Donkin, head of Eccleshill school, Bradford, said: "If I was teaching a child who did something wrong I would not expect a public and humiliating dressing-down to solve the problem. All naming and shaming does is to encourage schools to lie about absences."

The school's chair of governors has written to Stephen Byers, the schools standards minister, to condemn the publicity the school received and ask for extra support. Eccleshill had recorded a 75 per cent attendance rate, with a 14.4 per cent unauthorised absence record.

The first Mr Donkin heard of it was when a journalist telephoned. He spent the best part of the day fielding calls and defending his school, starting with an interview on Radio 5 at 7.25am and ending with a local radio interview at 5.45pm.

He said: "I was prepared. We know we have a problem and are doing our best. But the Department for Education and Employment does not do enough to educate the mass media about what the figures mean."

The policy in his school is to record an unauthorised absence if a child does not produce a note. Parents receive a weekly newsletter which includes information about their child's attendance record. Children with good attendance records receive a certificate.

"We have 221 children out of 560 who have certificates, but because of the table they were being labelled as truants and naturally they resented it. We are working hard to make the curriculum as relevant as possible. Having to deal with public exposure because of the league table was a diversion I could have done without."

The school is in one of the most deprived areas of Bradford. In some cases parents condone their children's absences either because they need them at home to look after younger children while they go out to work, or because they cannot control them. The intake starts at Year 9, and therefore does not include Year 7 and Year 8 in which, statistics show, there is less truancy.

But Mr Donkin is not looking for excuses. He said: "A 75 per cent attendance rate is appalling, but it is a hard nut to crack. 'Naming and shaming' is very simplistic. My staff and I can't work any harder than we are now to get children to come to school."

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