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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 20:23 GMT
How should truancy rates be reduced?
Children questioned by police
Fifty thousand children in England are skipping school every day, despite a government programme to tackle truancy.

The public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, says 885m has been spent on the problem since 1997 but truancy rates have not fallen.

The report calls for central government to work more closely with local councils and schools to reduce absence.

What is your reaction to the truancy rates? Why do you think they haven't fallen despite investment? How should truancy be tackled?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we received:

This topic was suggested by Keith Best, UK
Why has over 800 million been spent on trying to reduce truancy, rather than being put into front line education services?

Kids today have no respect for anyone or anything including themselves. Until parents start to bring their children up with a sense of responsibility, and get their offspring to realises the long term affects of not getting a decent education, you will not solve the truancy issue. Parents have to stop washing their hands of their children as soon as they leave the house for school each day.
Dan, UK

There seems to be this illusion that only 'stupid' kids play truant. This is not true. I would say I'm a reasonably intelligent and well adjusted young man. (I am currently 20 years old) I can quite honestly say that I hated school, and would not turn up if I could avoid it. I utterly failed my GCSE's, despite protestations from my teachers that I was letting myself down. School utterly failed to engage me, and I hated every day of it that I was forced to turn up. I would say a vocational option at the end of Key Stage 3 would have done me a world of good, perhaps also rewarding those who DO turn up to school with cash incentives would be a reasonable course of action. I don't know a single right-thinking adult who would work 8 hours a day for nothing!
Hugh Roberts, Anglesey, Wales.

There are so many reasons kids bunk off lessons: bullying by teachers or other kids; serious family problems; illness; families who don't care; parents who push their kids too hard; undiagnosed/uncatered for learning disabilities; the fact that some kids simply cannot learn in school environments. And let's not forget another crucial reason: until the 1960s, education was compulsory only until 14; 1980s, it was common for kids to leave school at 16 without qualifications and walk into jobs. My mother left school at 15 to work in a bank; my father at 16 to be an apprentice draughtsman. Nowadays, an undergraduate degree is not enough to get a good white-collar job. It's obvious that society has changed quite drastically over the past few decades, and that there is no simple single solution to truancy. Each case has to be dealt with on its own merits.
Kaz, Briton in NJ, USA

The blame lies solely with the parents of truants.
Roger Cope, Burton upon Trent
The truth, which is unpalatable to some and not spoken by others, is very simple, the blame lies solely with the parents of truants. Any parent who says they've 'tried' to make their child attend school and failed has not tried hard enough. We can blame the schools for poor exam results but getting the children, which is what these 'truants' are, through the gates, falls on the parents who need to start acting more like parents and less like ostriches with their heads in the sand.
Roger Cope, Burton upon Trent

There should be a vocational alternative to school. I truanted quite often because I wasn't interested in any of the subjects (even though I'd had a choice of which GCSE's to do) and the lessons were boring. There's no motivation to go to school if you don't enjoy it. Harsher punishments aren't going to bother most of the kids that do it regularly. They're once again tackling a problem from the wrong end due to being detached from the real world.
Jamie Samat, Northants, UK

A record of attendance should be kept by schools. When people claim unemployment benefits then these records should be looked at. If the person was a truant then give them a reduced rate, if anything at all. They should only then receive the normal rate of benefits if they prove they are trying to make up for it, like going back and re-sitting exams they probably didn't turn up to or failed because they never turned up to classes!
Mark, Birmingham

Let's get back to basics
Chris, Stafford
Bring back corporal punishment! Until the pupils themselves face some sort of punishment that they understand then the problem will continue to rise. As an ex-truant myself, I know that corporal punishment would hurt and made me think twice. It won't eliminate the problem but I seriously think it would help to reduce the current levels. Too much money is being thrown in to this problem. Let's get back to basics.
Chris, Stafford

If this small number of children are forced to go to school - they will still refuse to learn. So we should give the money to the university students, and abolish tuition fees instead. At least the country would benefit! This small rabble of children will still be useful later in life - as we will always need dustbin men.
Lucy Bird, Southampton, Hants.

Labour spends a fortune and achieves nothing. This isn't news - it is routine!
James Murphy, Dorset, UK

Perhaps if the teaching methods were made more interesting or the teachers put more fun into their jobs the pupils will have the incentive to keep coming back to their lessons.
Hyder Ali Pirwany, Okehampton, Devon, England

Send truants on work experience cleaning toilets and removing dog mess and vomit from the streets
Mogbeast, London, UK
Identify the truants, spend the money on a special facility so that they can be grouped in one place and stop ruining the prospects for other children, threaten their useless parents with a financial penalty if they don't ensure the attendance of their offspring. Oh and here's the clincher, send them on work experience cleaning toilets and removing dog mess and vomit from the streets. After all, this is all they'll be fit for unless they gain some qualifications - this should be stressed at the time. It was made clear to me at school that the choice was mine as to whether I wanted to work in a factory or in a 'decent' job. Children will always push to the limit (I did - except the limits are infinite now). I went for the educational escape route and it paid off. Mind you, teachers cared a lot more then.
<>Mogbeast, London, UK

I went to an all male secondary modern school in a deprived area. At the time corporal punishment was practiced. Truancy levels were low; the pupils were courteous and punctual. It's time we abandoned the wishy-washy liberal ideals which clearly haven't worked and re-establish discipline and respect for elders.
L, Derby, UK

The parents should go to jail! In most cases I know and when I was at school the parents knew that the children was off school
Mike Water, Manchester

Schools used to have high walls and gates. Get the kids to school, lock the gates behind them. The kids stay in and are safe from criminal elements, then it's up to the teachers! Kids that don't turn up? Send them to state run boarding schools and their parents can pay!
Derek H, South Shields, UK

We are systematically failing a group of children many of whom perform badly with the kind of schooling on offer
Adrian Holme, London
We are systematically failing a group of children many of whom perform badly with the kind of schooling on offer. They need to be offered relevant schooling including the opportunity for more practical vocational training - education in which they can succeed and which can prepare them better for life. The government emphasis on trying to send a huge proportion of young people through university is misguided and is misdirecting resources. Finally the government needs to support a nationwide network of 'kids clubs' modelled upon the South London example, that can rescue children with the greatest social problems in a non-school environment, where their problems can be tackled and they can gradually become reintegrated into some kind of education.
Adrian Holme, London

Yesterday I observed four boys, aged 13 - 14, lurking in the road near their school at 9:15 am. They were wearing school uniforms and had satchels. Possible truants? So I called the school, who did not appear to have any policy in place to investigate such reports. I see no evidence of any of the 885m being spent in our area.
Hugh O'Neill, Sutton Coldfield, UK

There is a growing trend in this country to absolve children of any responsibility for their actions. Coupled with a growing lack of respect and discipline, truancy rates will go up as children care less and less about their own future. More direct action is needed as most kids laugh at the attempts to reign them in.
Andy (26), Malvern

This is ridiculous. That means they could have given over 2500 to each child every year just to go to school and had a 100% success rate! What exactly was the money spent on? More social workers to sit having meetings all day long instead of actually doing anything?
Craig Hamill, Preston, UK

Prosecutions and fines have been shown to have a statistically insignificant impact
Gez Smith, Bristol, UK
There's actually a lot of research already out there on what works when it comes to truancy. Prosecutions and fines have been shown to have a statistically insignificant impact on it, teaching more relevant subjects has been found to have a massive impact. But which option did this Labour government choose to pursue for the last three years? Fines and prosecutions!
Gez Smith, Bristol, UK

The 885m could have been used to pay for new buildings, and smaller class sizes in schools, which means that each individual would get more attention, and a curriculum designed more closely matching their needs. Kids wouldn't truant as much then, but we have to get out of this target driven education system first, where the 'value for money' approach is taken all the time.
JA, Coventry, UK

The only thing that children will respond to is to take something away that they want. I suggest that something like making truant children wait an extra year or two for a driving licence would do the trick. The more often they are truant, the longer they have to wait. Maybe even a reduction in benefits could be in order, as arguably a reason for being unemployable would be absence from work.
Peter, High Wycombe

Why are we forcing these obviously reluctant children to go to school anyway? If they are too stupid to see the value of education then we should just cut them loose, and prevent them from claiming unemployment benefit.
Richard Read, London, UK

The 885m could have been used to pay for new buildings and smaller class sizes
JA, Coventry, UK
The 885m could have been used to pay for new buildings, and smaller class sizes in schools, which means that each individual would get more attention, and a curriculum designed more closely matching their needs. Kids wouldn't truant as much then, but we have to get out of this target driven education system first, where the 'value for money' approach is taken all the time.
JA, Coventry, UK

Secondary school attendance levels should be a criteria for receiving state benefits later on in life. That way children will learn to take responsibility for their actions. We are already paying too much in tax to tackle the problem and with a lack of education it is the taxpayer who will end up paying for them when they realise they are unemployable!
Chris Blackham, Doncaster, England

I thought there was already a system in place, where parents get fined, and potentially jailed for the children skipping school. Obviously this needs beefing up, and a tougher line taken with offenders.
Mark Gillespie, Weymouth, UK

I was badly bullied at school, hated school and often played truant. I left with few qualifications to an uncertain future. I had to later fight for education. Two degrees later I realise the importance and significance of education. Give me a job in the relevant department and a decent budget (much less than they have already spent) and I will dramatically cut truancy for you.
Colin Morgan, Port Talbot

My brother played truant - due to the schools lack of ability to deal with his learning difficulties (which they were aware of). The anxiety he suffered from the thought of going to school made his teen years hell. It made my mother's life hell, too, as she was unable to make him attend school no matter how hard she tried. The fault lay with the education system and teachers being unable to cater to his learning needs. Why can't 800m be spent on teacher training, wages and improving the curriculum to make learning more enjoyable? Parents are not always to blame. This country's policies are a joke.
Jane, London

Truancy is just a symptom of the larger problem
Franchesca Mullin, Belfast
I think the whole education system is wrong. It disenfranchises any child who does not fit into its rigid framework and labels them as a failure. Truancy is just a symptom of the larger problem. Every child is unique, and teaching methods that work, or partially work for the rest of the children in the system are quite clearly failing the rest of them.
Franchesca Mullin, Belfast

The 'real' figures are quite probably much worse. You would be surprised at some of the things which count as 'authorised absences'(I worked as a teacher for 5 years). Schools are always under pressure to produce lower truancy figures which masks what is really happening. I suspect that in truth absence and truancy percentages are much higher.

The kids who persistently truant should be allowed to truant. From experience in my school days, when you force kids into a classroom who don't want to be there, they are disruptive and simply get in the way of those children who do want to learn.

Half the parents simply do not care whether their child is educated or not
Helen Jones, Warrington, UK
My husband is a teacher at a secondary school which may soon go into Special Measures due to poor attendance figures. Teachers are being blamed for this, rather than putting the onus where it should be - on the pupils and their parents. At my husband's school, more than half the parents simply do not care whether their child is educated or not. How can that be the teachers' fault?
Helen Jones, Warrington, UK

A lot of truancy is caused by incompetent teachers. Some teachers cannot hold a young person's attention well enough. Lessons are conducted in a regimented way with some teachers drunk on 'power'. Often youngsters are bullied, not by their peers, but by their teachers. I have experienced this first hand and with my own children.
Lee, Middlesbrough England

The problem is that there's no immediate 'consequence' to truancy that is going to make an underachieving 16 year old think again. Until we do something about discipline and respect for teachers then the situation will not change.
Bill, UK

As far as the developed world statistics go, the UK is the leader in -teenage pregnancies, divorce, alcohol & drug abuse (all ages). Face it - a certain section of society is in a vicious circling downward spiral and the truancy statistics are hardly a surprise. Look back to when all these problems weren't so prevalent and learn what social factors made that time so different to society today.
Jake, Otterbourne, UK

The most common reasons for absence from school are illness, family holidays and medical appointments
Helen, Kent, UK
Has anyone looked at the report? The most common reasons for absence from school are illness, family holidays and medical appointments. "Bunking off" comes fourth and is less than 1% of pupils. Perhaps spending some of that money persuading parents that an education is more valuable than a term-time holiday may be better value. I don't care if they can't afford holidays at other times - either don't go or be more imaginative!
Helen, Kent, UK

Give the power back to teachers and parents to discipline children again. The under 18's of today have no fear of anything or anybody because they know that nobody can touch them. They can go around breaking windows, damaging property, skipping school and they know that if they get caught all they will get is a talking to. When I was at school if you caused disruption in the classroom or swore at a teacher it was straight to the headmaster for the slipper or cane.
John, Sheffield, England

25 years ago when I was in my last year of secondary school I had double French and double maths on a Friday afternoon (both subjects I hated with a passion) My mate and I used to bunk off and go and baby-sit his little brother while his mum went shopping. Truancy is nothing new. The kids who want to make something of their lives will always go to school.
Dave, Devon, England

Let's stop fooling ourselves that everyone is capable of going to University
Benjamin Woodhead, UK
50% percent targets for University and everything geared towards academia. 50% of jobs don't need a degree so let's stop fooling ourselves that everyone is capable of going to University and set up more apprenticeships for those tactical minded. If kids are stimulated by learning be it academic or technical they will stay in school
Benjamin Woodhead, UK

Why should the government waste good money on those who could not care less about truancy ratios. Short sharp shock treatment needed. Weekend detention centres, fines for parents etc. No parent likes losing money and no youth likes losing their weekend. Too much soft-peddling and pandering to these truants does absolutely nothing!! You can take a horse to water etc etc. I can think of other areas in the community that would benefit far better having 885M pounds spent on them.
Alan Edwards, Houston, Texas via Manchester

My son was playing truant for 6 months. I ended up going to school with him and sitting in his classes. It worked a treat
S Martin, Leeds, England

The average standard of parenting in the UK is very poor
Rustam Roy, London, UK
Simple - better parenting. Kids will always enjoy skipping school, but it's up to the parents to bring them up so that they follow rules. The average standard of parenting in the UK is very poor and that's why truancy is steadily on the increase and will increase even further.
Rustam Roy, London, UK

Means tested fines to the parents WILL fix it.
Raj, London UK

With nearly a billion pounds spent on this issue, wouldn't the money have been better spent on giving teachers pay rise and employing more teachers to reduce the ever rising class sizes?
AT, Surbiton, Surrey

Being a teacher I see this first hand. All I ever hear about is how bored kids are. When they are in school they are bored, when they are on day release job schemes-they are bored. "It's boring" is the saying of the day. Bad parenting, lack of aspiration and an expectation to receive something for nothing means that lots of kids just don't understand the opportunities they have in school.
Mr D, Sussex

Our school has 100% attendance, 0% truancy, 100% satisfaction and no bullying! We are self-funded, costing the state nothing and we invest in excellent resources. We have a wide range of activities to choose from and lots of friends. Our daughter is home-educated!
Susanna Matthan, Lincs, UK

Where parents do care and are trying everything possible, they deserve support, not derision and punishment
Anon, UK
I have a colleague who regularly gets calls at work to say his son has walked out of school during the day. He goes to great pains to co-operate with the school and other authorities. He takes his son in to school everyday. How does he ensure that a 14 year old boy stays there? No teachers can touch him without fear of being charged with assault and the boy knows that. My colleague is at his wits end. I agree that in a lot of cases parents don't care and set bad examples, they should be made accountable, however where parents do care and are trying everything possible, they deserve support, not derision and punishment.
Anon, UK

There are so many factors to consider, but if we look back at this problem in the past (it has always existed), it wasn't so prevalent as it is today. I think the education system should be split back into two streams to accommodate children who are academic and those who suit a more practical education (Grammar and Secondary Modern). That way the education they receive would suit both camps and the teachers of each would be able to be more focused on their needs. Putting them altogether is bound to cause problems when needs conflict.
Sade, England

Truancy has always been around, but the increase over the last ten to fifteen years is more to do with a failing education system than the people using it. The kids today are different from any other generation; more selfish but also more self aware. There are many reasons that kids don't go to school (bullying, learning difficulties, boredom, etc.) but the fact is that the government are not dealing with these problems. It's a scandal that nearly a billion pounds of taxpayer's money has been wasted for nothing, when youths that want to learn are coming out of university with huge debts. We need an alternative to the "one size fits all" education system that is failing everyone.
N, Belfast

This problem doesn't need money thrown at it. This problem is caused by a distinct lack of respect and discipline. At 25 I'm not that far removed from today's youth but I am often amazed at some of the things children get up to these days. Without adequate discipline there is no respect and unless this country makes drastic changes in the way children are brought up we see truancy and crime rise further.
Leigh, Gatwick

I agree with Leigh, Gatwick. I'm 24 and still see myself as relatively young. Yet half the new teachers are younger than me, a case of kids teaching kids. They've no interest in teaching respect, and even the more experienced teachers are gagged by red tape. The proper way to deal with the yobs of the class room would be to bring back caning, but Brussels would never stand for it. These children are rapidly becoming a protected species by a culture of human rights and compensation that is cultivating them.
Ross, London

Why send the parents to prison? They cannot ensure that their children will remain in school all day, unless they sit in the lessons with them. The children who play truant should be given a spell in a young offenders institute. It should discourage them from playing truant again.
Stephen, Cardiff

Looking at the causes of truancy (unauthorised absence) is important rather than just making blanket statements. Some children play truant because of bullying and the schools inability to deal with it. Merely forcing children to attend school will not resolve that. The culture which the government has created in schools has stripped their ability to deal with bullies by tying their hands. Other children have no interest in school and play truant to do other things. The reasons why these children do not respond to school are important to understand to enable it to be dealt with. You need to solve the underlying problems.
Chris Parker, Buckingham

Why bother to reduce truancy rates? Someone has to flip burgers and clean toilets. Spend the money on those who want to put in effort to better themselves.

Parents have to be made to realise that their children are their responsibility and it is their responsibility to ensure that their children attend school. Unfortunately some parents don't seem to care whether their children attend school or not and don't back up the authorities trying to keep children in school. We have to put the responsibility on the parents which would at least cut the number of kids take out of school to go on a term time holiday or a shopping trip with their parents!
Sue, Leighton Buzzard

If you do not complete 44 years in full time work you are not entitled to a full pension. Therefore if you do not complete your schooling and attain minimum grades to ensure you are at least employable then you do not qualify for any benefits. Your choice.
Big D, Manchester

Use the money to create children's homes - then stick the kids that play truant there. The parents are clearly unfit to manage or control them.
Alfie Noakes, North of England, UK

Look to the rest of Europe, they have an education system which seems to work and is valued by both children, parents and employers
Janet, Bristol
Look to the rest of Europe, they have an education system which seems to work and is valued by both children, parents and employers. Yes - let young people decide at 14 whether they want to opt for a vocational rather than academic route - this suits employers and the young people who see that they are learning something of value rather than being judged on GCSE results which do not reflect those skills which employers are looking for. Truancy happens for a number of reasons......we need to examine the reasons why, it's not just because they want to cause trouble - it's much more complex.....
Janet, Bristol

As with most problems, it all comes down to discipline. Unfortunately the soft liberals have moved the goal posts so much that it is impossible to actually discipline any one these days which means that people just do what they want.
Sam, Leeds

Fining parents is all well and good - but what happens when a teenager falls out with the parents (regular occurrence), then just gets caught out of spite! It will happen - fining is not the answer. Make school lessons more appealing, if the kids at 14 don't want Physics, French etc, then give them what they might want such as brick laying, plumbing - bring trade skills back into the class room
Colin Grant, Manchester, UK

When will the government learn that a "one size fits all" approach to education won't work? I was frequently absent from school as I found a lot of the curriculum irrelevant, and I left at 16. Now at 21, I have a degree with the OU and a great job. Kids need different avenues to be available to them, you can't fit all different sized pegs in one uniform hole.
Rebecca, Wales

885m spent with no results is a disgrace, and heads should roll. Clearly a new approach is required. I assume that children skip school because they find it boring and lacking in stimulation. Good schools offer extra curricular activities, e.g. sport or clubs and societies which provide a platform for children to want to attend and get the best from themselves. The key is to find teachers with enough zeal to run them. Work on that and some might wish to attend. That is the carrot. The stick should be that for each day a child plays truant, they and their parent(s) should be made to sacrifice a weekend day or weekday in the holidays to do community work.
David, Bolton, UK

It seems that throwing money at a problem will not make it go away
Oliver, UK
Truancy rates have not fallen, yet investment up? It seems that throwing money at a problem will not make it go away. Need to start getting truants back into schools by realising that 'one size fits all' education is a joke. Some children are held back/left behind due to people not taking ability, and therefore need, into account. It is time to talk the talk, not just walk the walk on the problems of today.
Oliver, UK

Fine the Parents, every day you see children not just skipping school alone but out with the parents as well. Fine them and make it means tested, it's the only language some people respond to.
Richie, Cardiff, UK

Rather than throwing money at the problem and blaming teachers, parents, children and society we should be looking into the reasons why some children regularly truant. Our education system that keeps people in school until 16 is wrong. Some kids are happy in school and onward in academia but some are not. Why not allow kids to leave school at 14 on the proviso that they take part in a recognised apprenticeship scheme. Many children who truant only do so because they don't want to be at school as they don't see the point of it.
James, Woodford, UK

I think that education is the key to this problem. We should teach our kids not to skip school - in school.
Graeme Robertson, Oxford

It's Simple. Fine the parents. Hold parents responsible for the behaviour of their unruly brood. Then the kids will be in school!
Craig, Stirling

Truancy rates haven't fallen because, to put it simply, the kids don't care and neither do many of the parents. Instead of forcing them to go to lessons they aren't interested in or fully understand, we should provide alternatives. I think that having a scheme of 'Trade Schools' would be one measure, where children from 14+ can go to learn a trade and have practical experience of life outside of school.
Rob, London

They should save the cash and spend it on the pupils who want to do well. Many of the children who play truant are the ones who disrupt classrooms when they are there. Let the kids who don't want to learn leave and our education system will improve greatly - that's two of Ruth Kelly's goals achieved for zero expenditure.
Peter, Nottingham

Why force schools to warehouse children who would rather not learn
Tom, London
Lower the school leaving age to 14 but provide opportunities for people to return to study when they are older. Why force schools to warehouse children who would rather not learn, disrupt other children's learning and divert resources which could be used for teaching into chasing truants.
Tom, London

How can the government spend nearly a billion pounds and have absolutely nothing to show for it? Its a scandal.
Jo, Norwich

The school has such limited sanctions left to it that the only angle of attack on this problem is through the parents. The parents should be held responsible anyway and much as it pains me to say, this government are doing the right thing by empowering local authorities to take financial sanctions against the parents. This has only started in earnest recently and I believe it is our only hope.
Clarke Pitts, London, UK

Schemes fail to dent truancy rate
04 Feb 05 |  Education
Rise in teenage truancy figures
16 Sep 04 |  Education
Fixed penalty truancy fines begin
27 Feb 04 |  Education


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