Suitable cases for treatment

12th March 2004 at 00:00
One school has boosted its attendance by offering pupils sweeteners such as snooker, table tennis and comfy chairs. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

Three months ago it had the dubious distinction of being one of the worst schools in the country for truancy.

But the offer of perks in return for regular attendance at Ruffwood school, in Knowsley, means pupils are now clamouring to get to class.

The school has created an elite group of about 100 pupils called the 95-Plus Club, to acknowledge students in Years 10 and 11 who work hard and attend school at least 95 per cent of the time. Their reward is the use - before and after school and at breaktimes - of a room containing snooker and table-tennis tables, comfortable chairs, a kitchen and quiet areas where pupils can work.

The club was set up after pupils complained that police had taken a group of troublemakers to Alton Towers while hard-working pupils went unrewarded.

The area, a disused dining room, cost pound;6,000 to refurbish. It has been carpeted and a television and stereo system have been installed for when pupils just want to relax. A daily broadsheet newspaper encourages young people to become interested in current affairs.

Last year the combined figures for condoned absences and truancy at Ruffwood was 20 per cent, compared with a national average of 8.2 per cent.

The poor attendance affected standards. Just 29 per cent of pupils achieved five or more good GCSE passes last year, against a national average of 52.9 per cent.

Since the introduction of the scheme, absence has fallen to 12.5 per cent overall, of which 7.3 per cent is unauthorised.

To qualify for membership of the club, pupils must also prove they do their homework, have a positive attitude towards studying and behave properly.

Teachers constantly monitor the criteria required for entry and every half-term the membership is reviewed. Existing members who fail to perform consistently can have their cards withdrawn.

Giles Elliott, acting head, said: "We now have the unprecedented situation of pupils telling teachers that their attendance is improving and demanding to know when can they be allowed in."

Mr Elliott came across the idea of creating the space during a chat with students. "One of them pointed out that a group of troublemakers were taken to Alton Towers theme park by the police last year, but that nothing was ever done to acknowledge those who get on with their work.

"Young people have a very keen sense of justice and I realised he was right and that we should do something about it.

"The achievements of those who get on with it are usually unsung. That has changed here We want all pupils to aspire to being successful and we can see that attitudes are changing among pupils."

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