Draconian measures won't beat truancy

7th October 2005 at 01:00
I write in response to the Government's plans to prosecute parents of serial truants unless their child's attendance improves over a 12-week period.

The causes of truancy are complex. Parents and students cite school-related factors such as bullying, boredom, lack of academic challenge and in-class support - whereas local education authority officers and teachers generally focus on poor parenting and the home.

We have seen the introduction of electronic registration; truancy sweeps (which have mainly picked up young people with legitimate reasons to be out of school), and the prosecution of parents. There is little evidence that any of these has made any impact whatsoever on truancy.

Imagine how the funds used for these measures could be used to address the core issues of why children choose to skip school and to support their parents.

If schools only contact a parent when there is a problem, it isn't rocket science to realise this is not a good relationship upon which to build.

Encouragingly, many full-service extended schools across the country are now tackling the thorny issue of how best to work with parents and carers, and the national learning charity, ContinYou, is supporting them.

Many chronic truants start young and it seems sensible to look at preventative work at primary schools. Some persistent truants may also benefit from alternatives to school or the curriculum. Certainly some after-school work and learning in their mother tongue has worked for some children. Other young people have flourished at college - finding this environment more respectful and conducive to learning.

Let's find ways of listening to young people and their families about the "whys" of truancy, and stop putting some of our most vulnerable citizens through public pillorying and distress.

Jenny Deeks Executive director: children, families young people ContinYou, 17 Old Ford Road Bethnal Green, London E2

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