Bolting the truant's door...

14th April 1995 at 01:00
Your editorial on truancy (TES, March 31), makes some telling points, though the maximum fine which can be imposed on parents is actually Pounds 1,000, not Pounds 400. There is little evidence, however, that fines of any size act as a deterrent, nor that they provide a solution for demotivated children and despairing or disinterested parents.

Nearly all talk about truancy focuses on merely closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Tony Blair's new-found enthusiasm for taking action against parents falls into the same trap. Few experts and politicians seem to want to talk about what makes parents and children opt out of education in the first place.

Tackling truancy has, as predicted, been made much more difficulty by the introduction of "authorised" and "unauthorised" absence. It is now schools, not parents or children, who decide when children should attend. Action of any kind in the courts is impossible if schools, desperate to avoid a "poor" performance in the league tables, authorise absence at the slightest opportunity. Everyone wants "something done" about children who feel that coming to school is a waste of time. Hardly anyone is prepared to live with higher levels of unauthorised absence in order to make the point that schools are no more willing to condone absence than parents.

Until we stop worrying about figures and fines, and start thinking about why disaffected young people should come to school, we will find only excuses, not explanations.

BEN WHITNEY

47 Manor Farm Crescent

Stafford

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