Truants need skills not punishment;Letter

22nd May 1998 at 01:00
As researchers and consultants with experience of truancy initiatives, we feel that the Government is missing the point with its proposals to give the police powers to pick up truants, and to impose orders on parents who do not get their children to school.

The typical truant has a chaotic and emotionally-impoverished family life, and has problematic relationships with staff and other pupils. The typical parent of a truant is unable, not unwilling, to get their child to school, either because their life is in crisis, or because of inadequate parenting skills.

It's hard to see how punitive measures will make any difference. David Blunkett's argument that young people can be diverted from crime by being forced back into school is also flawed. Truancy is a symptom of social exclusion and crime, not a cause.

The one shining light in the Government's proposals comes from its focus on the need for citizenship, health, and personal and social education. Many young people need to be taught pro-social skills in order to behave in more productive and socially acceptable ways. An overburdened, content-driven curriculum is leading young people to vote with their feet. Children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, often in association with learning difficulties, are alienated by the political drive for increased academic standards.

If this Government continues to retain the spirit and practice of Tory education reforms, then social exclusion will continue, however many punitive measures are put in place.

Truancy can only be reduced by ensuring that schools are places where young people (and teachers) want to be. Stopping the tragedy of social exclusion will not be achieved by humiliating and criminalising some of the most vulnerable members of our society.Pat Robinson and Hilary Stacey Catalyst Consultancy and Training Cambridge Road, Kings Heath Birmingham

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