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Skiving 'worse' under devolved truancy plans

EDUCATION welfare officers will not be able to challenge schools that turn a blind eye to "difficult" pupils bunking off lessons, under devolution plans.

So says the Local Government Association which, along with the education welfare managers' association, is critical of government proposals to devolve welfare services to secondaries. It would mean officers answered to headteachers, rather than operating independently as authority-run services, it says.

The two organisations say the proposals are ill-thought-out, lack evidence and could lead to a fragmentation of services for truanting children.

Ministers last November proposed transferring responsibility for dealing with absenteeism to secondary schools, following an Audit Commission report which criticised variations in the quality of council-run services.

Just under 400,000 of the eight million pupils in England and Wales are skipping school, according to the commission. Yet it found that nearly a third of local authorities still had not produced guidelines to help schools tackle absences.

Half of education welfare services were not checking up on the effectieness of school procedures - preferring instead to work on a case-by-case basis.

But the LGA accuses the Government of making "selective and misleading" use of the commission's report to justify devolving education welfare to schools.

Evidence from some authorities which have already devolved services suggests that provision has worsened. Nottingham reversed its devolution policy, after a critical report from the Office for Standards in Education.

Jenny Price, general secretary for the Association for Education Welfare Management, said: "There are some children not wanted by schools. Who's going to look after those kids?"

The association warns that devolution would:

Complicate management structures.

Set up unnecessary tensions between education authorities and secondary schools, and secondaries and primaries.

Endanger continuity of service between primary and secondary.

Limit the opportunities for sharing good practice.

Not necessarily safeguard the interests of individual children.

Consultation on proposals closed last month. The Government's final conclusions are due shortly.

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