The Government's strategy for reducing truancy would not work because it was punitive, involving prosecutions and truancy sweeps, Dr Richard Majors said. These were "Band-Aid solutions" that had failed and failed again, he told a National Children's Bureau conference on truancy.
US-born Dr Majors, who is currently deputy director of the Leigh education action zone in Lancashire, said a new approach was needed where teachers positively engaged young people, praising rather than 'dissing' them.
He cited evidence from last year's British Household Panel Study that nearly one in five 14 and 15-year-olds felt teachers were "always getting at them". Children often decided not to go to school because of a personality clash with one particular teacher, he said.
Teachers should be trained to understand working-class children and those from ethnic minorities.
But his comments were attacked as "incredibly sweeping statements" by Ian Lefevre, assistant principal tutor of Sir Frank Markham community school in Milton Keynes. Ninety per cent of children did go to school, he said: "The kids who are picked on are the ones who disturb lessons."
Dr Major's comments came in the week that the Government unveiled a national poster and leaflet campaign warning parents that they face prison sentences or fines of up to pound;2,500 if their children truant. All local authorities have agreed to take part in a national truancy sweep next week. And eight areas of the country will begin piloting a new fast-track system in January for prosecuting parents of truants.
The LEAs involved in the fast-track pilot are: Birmingham, Blackpool, Newcastle upon Tyne, North-east Lincolnshire, Sandwell, Thurrock, the London borough of Tower Hamlets and Wakefield.