Early bird catches persistent truants

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
THE transformation of a 15-year-old Blackburn pupil from notorious truant into exemplary student following a jail threat to his mother, has no doubt led to the Government celebrating a victory in the battle against truancy.

However, while no one argues against the need for a radical strategy to address attendance problems in schools, it is becoming clear that penalising parents alone will not achieve a long-term reduction in truancy rates.

The threat of fines and imprisonment of parents whose children are continually absent from school may create an immediate reduction in truancy levels, but the effects will be short-lived. As the prosecution of Patricia Amos highlighted, once the shock of the first few high-profile cases has worn off, truancy figures - both parentally condoned and uncondoned - start to rise again.

In this age of mass communication surely a more consistent approach can be achieved, such as contacting all parents on the first day of their child's absence and challenging them to provide a valid reason for the absence. This is a proven strategy to catch truants before they slip from the odd day off into long-term absenteeism, and also helps schools to understand the underlying reasons for lack of attendance.

Penalising parents may retain a place in the strategy to reduce truancy. But if the Government is to achieve a realistic reduction in truancy levels, it needs to go a step further than "strongly recommending" first-day contact and enforce it, ensuring it is persistent in all schools.

Stephen Clarke Director, Truancy Call Ltd 3 Brindley Place, Birmingham

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