Who cares if they plunk off? Not me;Opinion

5th June 1998 at 01:00
Truantspotting. Choose life, choose truancy, choose ignorance, choose idleness, choose crime, choose jail, choose selling the Big Issue. I didn't choose truancy. I chose low pay awards, chose to be blamed for society's ills, chose to be patronised by successive governments. The voice of the classroom teacher has been ignored. Truancy is the key education question of the day, not the rewards paid to those who deliver the curriculum.

I like truants. I'd like a class full of them! Most teachers would agree that a couple of serial truants make life a little more bearable - reduced class size, especially in low ability Standard grade classes, fewer jotters to correct, fewer appointments with deadbeat parents, fewer discipline problems.

I don't understand the fuss. Kids have dodged teachers since the beginning of time. I am sure when Christ said, "Gather round my feet little children", a few scallywags at the back nipped off to go fishing in Galilee. Plunking school has an honourable history. Huck Finn provided a role model for future generations of adolescent boys. On the one occasion I played hookey my friends and I wasted our day on the banks of the Monklands canal making a raft, or as it turned out, a submarine. But for the freezing weather it could have been the Mississippi. In Oliver Twist, the eponymous character is boring. Every kid wants more of the Artful Dodger. Streetwise, uneducated, unwashed, cocky - but enough of Liam Gallagher.

Who doesn't like truants? Step forward the senior management team. Truants distort academic league tables. School targets, especially relating to pupils achieving a grade 1-6 at Standard grade, are made more difficult. How good is our school if the pupils don't attend? Guidance staff hate truants. They add to the paperwork and provide a pastoral challenge.

The police don't like truants. School skivers can outrun most cops and divert precious police resources away from persecuting motorists who park inconsiderately. Parents don't fret over the loss of education, but over what state the house will be in after Johnny's afternoon rave.

Truancy can be assessed at three levels. Foundation truancy is staying off for weeks at a time and being caught in your own home when the attendance officer visits. The grade-related criterion for General truancy is to take a day here and there, being careful not to establish a pattern. Only the most gifted truant attains Credit whereby only individual periods are dogged and capture is extremely unlikely. Successful truants can become guests on daytime chat shows and convince the viewers that everyone but themselves is to blame for their illiteracy. Become a celebrity and you can claim undiagnosed dyslexia was the reason behind your unauthorised absences.

The Government plans to reduce truancy by a third by 2002, primarily by setting targets for individual schools. According to Stephen Byers, Education Minister south of the border, excluded pupils "get very little education". Does he not understand that is the point of opting out? Tony Blair's policy of press-ganging pupils is ill-conceived. Has he thought of the potential unemployment caused by full attendance? The truancy industry supports thousands of store security staff, attendance officers, social workers, arcade attendants, to name but a few.

The war on truancy will end in failure. Skilled malingerers use SAS tactics: in fast, out quick. Missing in action is a sought after status. Instead of fighting them, tolerate truants. This underclass is a minority whose very existence makes the classroom teacher appreciate other learners. Truants, bored by school life, are the same people who leave school and find job satisfaction stacking shelves in Tescos (and probably never miss a day's work).

Guidance staff who give me sob stories to explain a child's truancy are confusing me with someone who cares.

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