TEENAGE girls are more likely to play truant than boys in all-white secondary schools but not at schools with a mixed racial intake.
The finding was one of several made by researchers investigating attendance at 27 schools in seven local authorities in England for the Department for Education and Skills.
The team from the Scottish Council for Research in Education centre at the University of Glasgow found that, overall, boys tended to be more likely to skip school than girls.
However, the pattern was reversed for 11 to 14-year-olds at all-white secondaries. The team could not suggest a reason for this anomaly. They concluded that truancy among girls is generally not properly recognised and that further research was needed.
The team also found that local authorities felt schools were too ready to accept excuses given for absences and mark them down as authorised to improve their figures. "Distinguishing between authorised and unauthorised attendance is unhelpful because schools apply the terms in different ways," they said.
They found the causes of truancy were hotly contested: parents tended to blame schools, teachers blamed parents, while pupils blamed bullies and boring lessons. Although schools tried a range of techniques to boost attendance, including rewards and tighter security, few of these had any proven impact.
Separate research on 43 local authorities suggests that taking parents to court has also failed to raise attendance.
Ming Zhang, principal education welfare officer for Kingston-upon-Thames, said his analysis of figures from 1999 to 2002 showed that the link between prosecutions and truancy levels was "statistically insignificant".
"Absence from school: a study of its causes and effects in seven LEAs" is at www.dfes.gov.ukresearch. Ming Zhang's study will be published in "0-19" magazine on June 27