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Monday, November 2, 1998 Published at 18:47 GMT


Truants offered prize for staying in school

Shopkeepers can call the police for suspected truants

Schoolchildren are being offered free tickets for a play park in an attempt to reduce truancy.

Charles Dickens Junior School in Portsmouth, Hampshire, has been seeking to cut a truancy rate that has been running much higher than the national average.

As an incentive not to miss any lessons, acting headteacher Howard Payne has offered the reward of a free trip to a local leisure centre for pupils who have a 100% attendance record.

[ image: Children who have not missed any lessons in a half term can enter the draw for tickets for a play park]
Children who have not missed any lessons in a half term can enter the draw for tickets for a play park
The plan seems to be working, as Mr Payne now estimates that after a half-term of the scheme the truancy rate has "considerably improved".

In the past half-term over 80 of the school's 230 pupils have maintained a full attendance record, which according to Mr Payne would have been nearer to 15 on last year's rates of attendance.

These full attenders have been put into a draw for eight free tickets provided by the activity centre.

"It isn't only unauthorised absences that need to be reduced. There are also authorised absences where parents take children out of school for a day or half day," said Mr Payne.

[ image: Shopping centres are magnets for children playing truant]
Shopping centres are magnets for children playing truant
"Added together these odd days can be quite substantial - and if pupils are not in school, they're not learning. We want to highlight to parents the importance of attendance."

"This hasn't solved all truancy, but it has made an improvement."

The inner-city school, which has had seven head and acting headteachers in four years, also hopes that the reward scheme will help to raise school morale.

The school is now considering using the incentive of rewards in other areas, such as encouraging reading or good behaviour.

While Charles Dickens Junior School offers pupils the incentive of prizes for staying at school, elsewhere in Portsmouth a more direct approach to catching school avoiders is being launched.

Shop assistants in the city are being encouraged to contact a truancy hotline if they see anyone shopping that they suspect should be in school - as shopping centres are a likely haunt of pupils absent from school.

Shopworkers are being asked to keep pupils in the shop until truancy officers or the police answer the call.

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