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What the headteacher's say;Opinion

THE Government's advice could present Maggie Terry, the head of Ambler primary school, Islington, north London, with a complicated "ring round" every morning.

The school draws 48 per cent of its 435 pupils from homes which either do not speak English or speak it as a second language.

"In theory, it is a very sound idea. In practice, there are difficulties," she says. "I would have a problem with interpreters. I have someone from virtually every country in the world.

"Contact will be made even more difficult because many families are living in accommodation for the homeless, without immediate access to telephones."

WYN Morgan, head of Kings Houghton middle school, Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire, says he is lucky to be running a school with a relatively low absence rate.

But the prospect of first-day contact still raises problems. Many children come from families with two working adults and the school may often be ringing back-up contacts, such as grandparents who live out of the area, to find out why a student was not in school.

"We have about 500 children so you can imagine what it would be like trying to ring round in the morning," Mr Morgan said.

The onus should be on parents to contact the school, he said. "They usually have only one or two children, so it is easier for them to ring us, than for us to ring them."

MICK Bucktrout, head at Airedale high school, Castleford, Wakefield, believes immediate contact with the parents of all unexplained absentees will be impossible without more money.

"We adopt a policy of first-day response for children that have a history of absence which suggests that they might be truanting. However, we don't have such a policy for all children because in a school of more than 1,000, with an absentee rate of, say, 10 per cent, we would have 100 off.

"Some families are not on the phone. In order to get in touch, we would have to have a full-time worker. My suggestion would be: if the Government feels that it is a good idea then it needs to allocate funds."

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