Truancy trials have to reach court;Letter

29th May 1998 at 01:00
So the Government wants to have a drive against truancy? It would be as well to start with the magistrates' courts.

Let me cite an example. A boy in my pastoral care has had an extremely poor attendance record throughout his secondary school career: 90 per cent in Year 7, 70 per cent in Year 8, 60 per cent in Year 9, and almost 0 per cent in Year 10.

I have written more than a dozen letters to his mother on the issue of attendance, not including others on smoking, behaviour, and so on. The mother has avoided many opportunities over four years, to meet in school to discuss the absenteeism. Eventually, after the involvement of the educational welfare service, the case came to court.

By pleading "guilty" the mother managed to shift the blame from herself to the school with an allegation of "bullying". True, an allegation was made. It was on the very first day of the academic year (last September) and it concerned unnamed people making unnamed threats at unspecified times. Attendance was zero after this first day. The parents subsequently failed, over the following nine months, to come to school to discuss the allegations and work out a solution.

Lest I am misunderstood, let me make it plain: I do think that bullying is a very serious issue and I do take all such allegations seriously. However, in a situation like this, without the cooperation of the alleged victim or parent, I am left fuming impotently ... always assuming, of course, it is a genuine bullying problem, and not a pretext for truancy.

As the mother made a statement in mitigation, I had to listen as my professional integrity was maligned (there being no chance of a reply since it was a guilty plea) over my alleged disregard or lack of interest in the "bullying".

The end result of four years of parentally condoned absenteeism was a conditional discharge. The bench took no heed of the first three years absenteeism, the prolonged efforts by the school in that time to get the boy to come to school or the parents' history of ignoring school letters and appointments.

I, along with several hard-working educational welfare officers, was left speechless, wondering why we bother to struggle against truancy that is so often condoned by parents, and almost as often condoned by the courts.

Head of Year. Name and address supplied

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