Stop truancy with lessons

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Persuade absentee pupils back to school with a better choice of subject options, says union. Felicity Waters reports

Changes to the curriculum are needed to help schools tackle truancy rates - which remain virtually unchanged in eight years, according to the latest figures.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) Cymru says the way subjects are taught could be at the heart of why many children bunk off classes. It claims that re-engaging disaffected youngsters is one of the profession's key challenges in the fight against unauthorised absence.

Despite a slight drop in overall absenteeism, truancy - or absence without permission - has remained virtually unchanged over the past eight years in Welsh schools. In 20045 nearly three days were missed per pupil during the last academic year, the same as last year. Schools in Cardiff recorded the highest truancy levels.

Truancy figures in England also show no sign of falling, but the proportion of pupils truanting is less than in Wales.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, said more attention needed to be given to how children learn and grasp concepts, and less to the content of the curriculum.

"The negligible drop in overall absenteeism shows that new thinking is now needed to tackle the problem. It would be useful to listen to the experience of the truants themselves to find out what turns them on and off learning," he said.

Professor Ken Reid, deputy principal of Swansea Institute of Higher Education, said that more young people should be given the opportunity to opt out of the curriculum and pursue vocational courses instead.

"The problem is that we are trying to turn all kids into academics when many don't necessarily want to do GCSEs or A-levels. But it would require a change in the law to enable youngsters to opt out at 14 and go to a further education college," he said.

Parents should also play their part, he said. "This is about shared responsibility, and schools and teachers rely on parents to fulfil their statutory obligation to get their child to school."

The Assembly government pledged to reduce overall absenteeism in schools to below 8 per cent of half-day sessions by 2004. Slight decreases have been recorded since 1997, when the figure was 10.4 per cent, but statistics published last week show 9.3 per cent of school sessions were missed in 20045.

Overall, nearly 15 days per pupil were missed through authorised and unauthorised absences between last September and May this year. Attendance was worst in schools with high proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals. In Rhondda Cynon Taf, one in 10 half-day sessions was missed by pupils - compared to 7.3 per cent in Flintshire.

An Assembly government spokesperson acknowledged that more needed to be done, but said many initiatives were under way including developing individualised learning pathways for 14 to 19-year-olds - which tailor courses to suit individuals - and improving transition between primary and secondary schools.

There has been investment in electronic attendance management systems, and future work includes support for parents through parenting orders and contracts.

"Just as there are many reasons why children do not attend school, there is no single solution to tackling attendance issues," he added.

An RCT spokesperson said it was trying to nip truancy in the bud in primaries, and has three dedicated education social workers supporting primary and secondary schools.

Its education welfare team will also investigate pupil absences from the first day of unauthorised absence.

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