School to pay truant adviser pound;33,000

9th October 1998 at 01:00
Clare Dean reports on an unusual move in the drive to stop children skipping class or being excluded - a campaign now backed by pound;500m of Government money

A grant-maintained secondary school is clamping down on parent-condoned truancy by appointing its own pound;33,000-a-year attendance adviser.

As many as 120 pupils - 10 per cent of the total roll - skip lessons at Mellow Lane school in Hillingdon, London, in any one day. On average pupils miss 14 days' schooling a year.

Nearly all the absences have been authorised by parents who, according to headteacher Rod Stafford, feel it is acceptable for their children to miss a few days here and there. But he said: "The message has to be crystal clear: it is not."

The attendance adviser, funded jointly by the school and leading businesses, will be appointed by the end of this month and be in post early next year. He or she will be backed up by a family literacy teacher and a support member of staff during the four-year pound;300,000 project which aims to respond rapidly to truancy.

The school will target pupils who are absent from 8 to 15 per cent of the academic year. Missing pupils will be identified on the first day and contacted immediately at home.

Patterns of absenteeism will be studied to see if they reveal underlying problems in the classroom - such as particular subject dislikes. The curriculum could then be developed to satisfy pupils' needs.

Links will also be established with the police to reduce anti-social behaviour in the community and the school will investigate any home problems. Mr Stafford adds: "We will be challenging a culture where casual absence is condoned."

Hillingdon's educational welfare officers will continue to work with the school on long-term truancy. The Hayes and West Drayton Partnership - which consists of Hillingdon council, training providers, the local community, and businesses such as British Airways and Marks and Spencer - is putting up pound;140,000 for the project. The school is providing pound;160,000.

Spokesman Angus Johnson said: "Today's pupils are the workforce of tomorrow and it is imperative that they gain the right qualifications and skills to get the best jobs that will be on the market.

"Persistent absenteeism, is hardly the kind of habit that will impress a future employer and if this is the cause of poor exam results then these youngsters will be drawn into a spiral of unemployment and, potentially, crime."

A Department for Education and Employment spokesman said attendance should be a priority for schools.

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