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Truants tempted by tea and toast

Toast, jam and a bowl of cereal is a more effective truancy deterrent than on-the-spot fines, according to the Welsh Assembly.

Members heard that pupils from deprived areas would be more likely to attend school if they were guaranteed a meal. The Assembly has already rejected English plans for on-the-spot fines for parents of truanting pupils.

Jeff Cuthbert, Assembly member for Caerphilly, one of the poorest constituencies in Wales, said: "Unfortunately, there are many children whose parents don't provide breakfast. If they are given a healthy, balanced meal, they will actually have a motive for coming to school. And, once they are in school, they are more likely to stay for the rest of the day."

Truancy is a particular problem in Wales. Last year, 1.7 per cent of lessons were missed because of unauthorised absence, compared with 1.1 per cent in England. But, says Mr Cuthbert, most cases of truancy occur in areas of particular deprivation. Children raised in such areas are the most likely to leave home without breakfast.

In its manifesto for this year's Assembly elections, the Welsh Labour party pledged to provide free breakfasts for all primary pupils. The programme will be piloted from September 2004.

The Assembly is also lending its support to other methods of addressing truancy. It has implemented a number of measures recommended earlier this year by a truancy taskforce. The first Welsh national truancy sweep was conducted last month.

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations, has welcomed the Assembly's decision.

She said: "We should be putting effort and money into supporting children and families. Fining the parent is only a short-term fix.

"We need to make school a place children want to be. We hope England considers going along with that ethos."

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