Blame boredom, not parents for truancy

17th January 2003 at 00:00
Prompted by "The Right Tools" (TES, December 13) and response to it (TES, January 3), I reflected on my own persistent truancy as a pupil, more than 30 years ago.

Truancy then seemed due to poor relationships with certain teachers. Recent research suggests this is still the case. O'Keefe et al's 1993 study finding dissatisfaction with teacher(s) to be the second biggest reason for truancy, after boredom. Professor Ken Reid observes that the prevalence of parent-condoned absence is a myth prompted by poor research.

The current fashion for finingimprisoning truants' parents is diverting attention from causes towards scapegoats. Charles Clarke's policy of spot-fines is likely to harden truants' resolve and so worsen relationships between schools and truants.

It is time to address truants' criticisms and deal with the complex issues at the root of the problem: boredom, poor teacher-pupil relationships, and perceived irrelevance of the curriculum. Truancy is a warning sign that something needs attention in a school. It is counterproductive to extinguish that signal with an oppressive cheap trick that simply chains pupils to desks and reduces schools to day-prisons, staff to guards, and heads to tax collectors.

Neil Southwell 6, Lynwood Close Kettering, Northamptonshire

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