The Government wants to switch responsibility for absenteeism from councils to heads. Chris Bunting reports on the planned shake-up SCHOOLS are to be given responsibility for rounding up their own truanting pupils under proposals published this week.
School standards minister Estelle Morris announced on Monday that the Government was planning to transfer the budget for education welfare officers from councils to headteachers.
The announcement follows last month's highly critical report from the Audit Commission which was revealed large variations in the performance of education welfare services - responsible for dealing with truants.
While some authorities were effective in tackling truancy, others did little more than the legal minimum. It is estimated that every day 50,000 pupils stay away from school without permission.
Under the Government's new plans, outlined in the Department for Education and Employment consultation document Tackling Truancy Together, every secondary headteacher will be given a budget to buy in staff whose job it is to ensure pupils get to school.
Ms Morris told a London conference of teachers and education welfare officers that EWOs should come under the management of the school and headteacher. The plans are currently out to consultation.
Part of the current problem, she said, is that some heads have to deal with a plethora of welfare officers because the EWOs' patches do not coincide with school-catchment areas.
"Instead of being responsible for a geographical area, they will be responsible for all of the children on a school's roll," she said. The new generation of truancy officers will be expected to build up a relationship with parents and pupils.
Councils will retain responsibility for primary pupils and for children who have been excluded from mainstream education.
David Scott, head of Calder high school, West Yorkshire, welcomed the idea:
"The problem is that you can be dealing with different people for different areas. Co-ordination can be difficult.
"The commitment of these people is excellent, but having dedicated people for schools will be supported by secondary heads."
MODELS OF GOOD BEHAVIOUR WIN PRAISE
THE GOVERNMENT is devoting pound;500 million to help achieve its target of reducing the numbers of truants by a third in the next three years. The strategy outlined in its new consultation document includes:
Fines of up to pound;5,000 for parents of persistent truants and compulsory attendance at court by the parents (80 per cent currently choose not to attend).
An annual celebration for the 50 schools in England who have done most to reduce truancy. Winners will be presented with awards of up to pound;10,000 each.
Around 800 learning mentors for up to 450 inner-city schools over the next two years.
Schemes to improve registration using electronic registers and swipe cards.
School-based support units for disruptive children.
Work-related courses for youngsters who have given up on learning.
Other good practice praised in the consultation document includes:
A Liverpool Council scheme to issue pagers to parents of truants. Schools are able to contact parents as soon as their child fails to turn up at school. Absences have dropped from 2.4 per cent to 1.9 per cent of half days missed.
Springvale primary school, Staffordshire's Gladiator Challenge card. Every day the children attended school they got a "Gladiator helmet" sticker to put on their card. When they completed a week they received a sticker marked "another week bites the dust". Attendance improved from 89.7 per cent to 91.6 per cent.
Haringey education authority's truancy patrol. A marked minibus staffed by two uniformed officers, an education welfare officer and a youth worker trawls the borough for three days each term.