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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 29 July, 1998, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Truancy and exclusions must be cut by a third
truants
Up to a million children in the UK play truant each year
The new School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, has set out proposals to cut the level of truancy and exclusions from school by a third in the next four years.

In a speech to the Professional Association of Teachers conference in Cheltenham, she said that the government would set targets for reductions for each local education authority.

There is an "enormous variation between apparently similar authorities", the minister told delegates, which revealed the need for improvement in the authorities with the worst records on exclusions.

The targets for individual authorities will be published in the autumn, the minister announced.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme before the PAT conference, Ms Morris said that the imposition of targets would help "the worst performing authorities to perform at the rate of the best".

The government estimates that as many as a million children skip at least one half-day in each school year.

Exclusions from school are running at record levels. Latest figures show 12,700 children were permanently excluded from schools in England in the previous school year. About 100,000 were temporarily suspended.

In addition to the target-setting for local authorities, Ms Morris told the conference that the responsibilities of parents needed to be emphasised.

Estelle Morris
The new School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris
"A key parental responsibility is that of ensuring that children attend school regularly and turn up on time," she said.

These responsibilities will be supported by the courts, she said, not only in imposing fines for parents but in "setting conditions such as a requirement to escort a child to school".

Ministers are already proposing to exempt disaffected children from parts of the National Curriculum from the age of 14, in the hope that more work-based training will "re-engage" them with education.

But delegates at the conference are warning that schools could undermine efforts to cut truancy by doctoring the statistics.

The treasurer of the Professional Association of Teachers, Noel Henderson, says truancy statistics are not worth the paper they are written on.

"We all know what happens," he said. "Children come in and register and then play truant.

"Schools very often turn a blind eye to this because it suits them to do so. League tables won't work because schools will find ways of cheating the system."

'Blame the parents'

The government needed to address the root causes of truancy instead of setting targets, he said.

"Truancy is a symptom of boredom, of frustration, of fear, of bloody mindedness, of laziness and of peer group pressure.

He called for tougher action against parents who neglected their responsibility to see that their children attended school.

"The fines that can be imposed on parents are derisory, and don't serve as a deterrent," Mr Henderson said.

Another delegate, Bob Gale, says schools are "working overtime not ... to get children back in school, but to authorise their absence, so that they don't appear on their truancy figures.

"Truanting pupils reduce class sizes and disruption in school, and they significantly reduce the bureaucracy and workload of teachers," he said.

Ms Morris rejected claims that schools were deliberately failing to report the full extent of absenteeism, saying that that would be a "gross dereliction of duty".

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Estelle Morris on Today
Estelle Morris outlines her plans to cut truancy on Radio 4's Today programme
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29 Jul 98 | Education
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