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Tuesday, October 6, 1998 Published at 20:36 GMT 21:36 UK


Parents 'condoning truancy'

Majorca in June: "It's part of the National Curriculum," says the mother

Many children playing truant from school appear to be doing so with the connivance of their parents.

Watch Martin Bashir's report
Education welfare officers and teachers in County Durham told BBC Two's Just One Chance programme that was one of the biggest causes of pupils being absent from school - and there is no reason to think the area is unique.

[ image: Brian Ogden: Alarmed by the figures]
Brian Ogden: Alarmed by the figures
The head of Spennymoor School on the outskirts of Durham, Brian Ogden, calculates that his secondary pupils miss on average 20 days each per year.

"If the statistics are to be believed then about 80% of truancy has probably got some form of parental agreement to it," he says.

"Either the parents haven't made their child go to school - 'Well you were ill last week so you can stay off this week', that kind of thing - rather than the children actually deciding, either on the spur of the moment or pre-planned: 'We're not going to school today'."

[ image:
"She's got chickenpox"
One of the main reasons is that parents who are both out at work want the older children to look after younger brothers and sisters, Mr Ogden says.

Welfare officers on the streets of Durham heard simpler excuses.

"She's had a nose bleed for the last week and she has got a doctor's appointment for today," said one father with his daughter.

"She's come shopping with me today. She had her coat got ripped at school, apparently, so we've come for a new one," said a mother.

[ image:
"They miss roughly three weeks a year, which is not a lot"
It is not only single days. The way the costs of foreign holidays escalate outside of school terms is a big incentive for parents to take their children out of classes for a week or two at a time if they are to afford a break in the sun.

Schools can give permission for up to 10 days off each year if a child's overall attendance is otherwise good. But parents usually want more than that.

One father in Majorca with his son and daughter said he simply had to fill in a form to get the school's permission.

[ image: Another blank in the school register]
Another blank in the school register
Their teachers would set extra homework to make sure they caught up, he said, and he would make sure they did the work.

Some parents keep their children out of school indefinitely. This can result in a court summons and, potentially, a fine of up to £1,000.

Durham education welfare officer Ken Dodd says: "It's just a way of life for them. They see no value in education.

"You sense you've failed but let's hope it's the start of a new beginning."

  • Just One Chance is broadcast on BBC Two on Tuesdays at 7.30pm. The last programme in the present series is on October 26.

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