Tables on truancy are pointless;Letter

24th December 1999 at 00:00
In your editorial on authorised and unauthorised absence figures (TESS, December 10) you observe that six years of the tables have made almost no difference to the figures.

The most that has happened is that the absentees have been shuttled between the authorised and unauthorised categories as the Government changes its definitions.

Then in your report on the figures, reference is made to Drumchapel, the secondary school with the worst figures in Scotland, whose absentee level has remained virtually unchanged since it was established and yet whose staff have been praised in an HM Inspectorate report for their efforts to improve attendance.

Surely, the true conclusion to be drawn from all this is that the whole exercise is a complete waste of money and effort.

Indeed, the utter pointlessness of the whole exercise is highlighted by a further observation in your editorial that secondary pupils seem to need four weeks off per session.

Well, of course they do because exam leave is included in the figures and every pupil in S4, S5 and S6 at school in the summer term has five weeks' study leave.

As S4-S5 represents a sizeable chunk of the school population, and the figures are averages, these five weeks of absences have a major impact on secondary school figures. The irony is that the more successful a school is in getting youngsters to stay on, the worse its attendance figures will be. The easiest way for a school to improve its attendance figures would be to encourage more pupils to leave at the end of fourth year.

Your report also makes the point that bad average figures can be the product of a few individuals who are persistent truants. Clearly the average figure is too crude and the modal figure would be more useful.

However, the bottom line is that all that really matters is identifying the absenteeism which is susceptible to change, whether that is due to pupils truanting or parents taking their children on holiday. All the rest is the numerical equivalent of rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic and a Government obsessed with value for money should perhaps start by inspecting its own practices.

Judith Gillespie, Findhorn Place, Edinburgh.

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