'Enter school gates. You have arrived at your destination'

4th March 2011 at 00:00
California schools trial GPS to guide truants back to class

Two schools in California are using GPS devices to help track truants in a trial which aims to nag pupils back to school.

The handheld trackers are part of a programme which aims to reverse bad habits by constantly prompting pupils to remember that they are expected in school.

Pupils aged 12 to 14 who have four unauthorised absences are issued with a GPS device, similar to a phone. They enter a code into the machine five times a day - morning, on arrival at school, at lunchtime, when leaving school and at 8pm - and the device checks the pupil is where they are supposed to be. The tracking system also means that the devices are hard to lose.

Community coaches, including church and business leaders, talk to the pupils for about ten minutes three times a week to mentor them and encourage them to get to class.

The devices are provided by Dallas-based AIM Truancy Solutions. The scheme in Anaheim, California, is voluntary, but it has also been used in Texas, as part of the court system for chronic truants.

AIM Truancy regional director Miller Sylvan said the devices are carried rather than physically attached to the pupils to avoid the perceptions of criminalisation. He added that making pupils enter a code, rather than simply tracking them, was part of the strategy.

"We want students to be interactive with the device and take steps to let us know where they are," he told the Orange County Register. "That helps teach them the discipline they need to be responsible. It gets them thinking about their schedule."

Dale and South Junior high schools have signed up to a six-week pilot in which some 75 pupils are expected to take part.

But the idea has not found support in the UK. Jennie Clark, president of the Association of Education Welfare Management, said: "Truancy is a much bigger issue than laziness. The number of pupils who just don't want to get up in the mornings is very few. The majority have other reasons for truancy that could be to do with their home lives, problems in school with other pupils or the work. Unless those external difficulties are addressed, just getting them to school is not enough."

But the company says that nearly two-thirds of the pupils in its programme achieve perfect attendance, and in January it announced plans to expand across the US.

Company president Travis Knox said: "Students who are frequently absent from school are more likely to drop out, which leads to joblessness, crime and prison. By addressing the problem, we get students back on track and make a direct impact on our country's crime rate."

In England, record numbers of primary school children were absent without permission last year, with 0.68 per cent of half days missed during the autumn and spring terms 200910. The overall truancy rate, including secondaries, fell slightly.

Last year, a mother in Brighton was sentenced to a three-month curfew, which was enforced by electronic tag, after her two children missed school.

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