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Set targets to tackle truancy

Inspection agency Estyn has warned that truancy will not be ended by sending police patrols into shopping centres. Truancy sweeps may make good headlines. But any good teacher knows that to stop pupils absconding you have to give them good reasons for sticking around school, including a welcoming environment, a curriculum that arouses their curiosity and teachers who inspire them to learn.

Absence rates have remained virtually unchanged for three years in Wales, at 9.4 per cent of half-day sessions missed, which means that no progress has been made towards the Assembly government's 2004 target of 8 per cent.

But the blame may not lie with politicians this time. Estyn's report suggests too few headteachers are taking whole-school steps to tackle the problem. The government has provided schools with benchmark data comparing attendance rates in schools with similar intakes, so that they can set their own targets. But hardly any heads use them. Estyn's report, Improving Attendance, documents best practice - including first-day response, using education welfare officers, ensuring relevance in the curriculum, and prizes for attendance.

Another measure will come into play in November when Wales sets an example to the rest of the UK by requiring all schools to have a student council.

There are striking examples worldwide of schools that have overcome disaffection by giving pupils more of a sense of ownership of their school.

Ugandan schools with many former child soldiers in their classes are giving elected prefects training in leadership and conflict resolution. Schools in Colombia, where student councils have been a legal requirement for some years, set up young mediator groups to sort out problems between pupils.

The Assembly government has put some important measures in place to help tackle truancy. It is time more headteachers also set their own targets and took steps to achieve them.

As John Williams, head of Penydre comprehensive, Merthyr Tydfil, which raised attendance from 80 to 90 per cent in 10 years, says, it takes a "total team effort".

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