FIFTY schools were this week rewarded by the Government for their work on combating truancy.
Three schools, King Richard secondary, Portsmouth, Belvue special in Ealing, west London, and St Martin's primary, Oldham, won pound;10,000 for reducing pupil absence by two-thirds over two years. All the other award-winners won pound;8,000.
Some of the most dramatic results were achieved by improving registration procedures, attendance rewards and better relations between the school, parents and education welfare officers.
The Government is giving schools pound;174 million in 2001-02 in a bid to cut truancy by a third.
Pupils hanging around the gates of the award-winning Blythe-Jex secondary school when they should be in class had better watch out.
The chances are they have been caught on a closed-circuit television camera which the school has rigged up as one of a host of measures devised to reduce truancy.
Blythe-Jex, a Norwich comprehensive whose catchment area includes the tough Mile Cross council estate, has cut unauthorised pupil-absence rates from 5 per cent to 2 per cent in just two years. It won one of the pound;8,000 pries this week in recognition of the achievement.
Staff say the secret is to combine carrot-and-stick strategies with prizes for those who never truant, but severe penalties for those who do.
For the past three years the school has been working with the YMCA, which has a pastoral carer at the school. It also employs a full-time truancy and discipline officer, Fiona Blundell.
The team gives parents or carers of known truants daily reports on whether or not their children are in lessons. If any child is absent without permission, the parent is phoned. Sanctions for persistent truants are tough. Regular offenders face a three-hour silent detention on a Saturday morning.
Pupils with good attendance rates are given tickets for a raffle offering prizes including footballs, CDs and videos. The year's best attender receives a bicycle.
This term the school has started a "fantasy five-a-side attendance league", offering prizes to groups of pupils with the best attendance figures.
Mrs Blundell said the 796-pupil school's approach to truancy meant that fewer than 10 pupils now bunked off lessons regularly.