Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 08:20 GMT
'Zero-tolerance' of truants in shopping centre
Shopping centres want to attract adults rather than truants
When Britain's largest shopping centre opens in Kent on Tuesday, it will be declared a "zero-tolerance" zone for truants.
Shopping centres have frequently become magnets for children playing truant from school, often leading to problems of petty crime and delinquency.
But Bluewater shopping centre in Dartford, Kent, is determined to avoid gaining such a reputation and has sent leaflets to parents of children at local schools advising them that young people will not be allowed to hang around the centre during school time.
Under new anti-truancy measures introduced by the home secretary, the police have been given greater powers to detain truants and return them, where necessary, to school.
Bluewater, an out-of-town shopping centre on the M25 motorway around London, is expecting 80,000 visitors a day to its 320 shops, 40 restaurants and bars and a multiplex cinema.
But Kent County Council and the local police are hoping that a high-profile campaign will stop truants being among the shopping centre's regular visitors.
Michael Angell, the chairman of Kent County Council's pupil services board, said that the council knew "from past experience that large shopping centres are popular venues for children truanting from school".
"These children are missing out on their education which will put them at disadvantage in later life. We are working very hard to reduce levels of truancy to make this centre a truancy-free zone."