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Home texting to track down truants

Truancy levels across at least 100 Scottish secondary schools are to be targeted by the latest communications technology, Elizabeth Buie writes.

The Scottish Executive announced yesterday (Thursday) that it was funding a national pilot programme to introduce two automatic alert systems - truancy call and parent call.

Some schools have already introduced the systems and anecdotal evidence suggests they have been successful in improving attendance levels and home-school liaison.

Anne Hood, deputy headteacher of Lochend Community High in Glasgow, which has been using truancy call for four years, averaging 120 calls a night across the learning community cluster, said that parent call would be introduced from next month .

"It means that the children who do dog school are caught on day one instead of day two or three - and the pupils know that. Our attendance has gone up over the past four years from an average of 73-74 per cent to 84 per cent now. Truancy call is not totally responsible for that but it certainly has made a significant impact."

The educational liaison officer in the Lochend learning community is able to visit 20 to 25 homes a day to check absences, but truancy call can multiply that by a factor of five, six or seven.

Truancy call automatically alerts parents by phone, e-mail or text if children are not in school. Parents can use a touch-tone option to confirm that they are aware of their child's absence, or alternatively they can contact the school if their child's absence is not authorised. The system contacts parents until a response is received and records replies.

Parent call sends out group messages such as advance information about parents' evenings and also transmits individual messages to keep parents up to date about their child's progress.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said that schools involved in the programme would be ready for the new session in August. The impact would not emerge until next year's attendance statistics were published.

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