One dreadful irony of this appalling waste of money is that it also serves to contradict one of the few true statements that John Patten has made as Education Secretary. It was he who pointed out that truancy represents children 'voting with their feet' against the inadequacy of the education system. He was right. Teachers can't compete with the thrills of the video arcades and the latest computer games if they are struggling to communicate in overcrowded classrooms with dog-eared text books and tatty photocopied work-sheets.
Whatever their academic ability, children are aware of themselves as consumers and they know they are being short-changed by schools. Most truants have problems with learning and they know full well that their very special difficulties aren't going to be overcome in classrooms with 30 others. They know they are never going to acquire new skills in technological subjects if the equipment has to be shared and is, anyway, outdated.
To truant, therefore, is quite logical, and who can blame them? If we want to attract these children back to school we have to make the experience of education interesting and worthwhile, and to do that we have to spend money. Fourteen million would have been a good start.
Perhaps the most grotesque aspect of this exercise is that it benefits nobody and is largely inoperable. If, Mr Forth, you are successful in tracking down truants and bringing them to court, we all know that magistrates are so busy that by the time most cases come up it will be time for the truants to leave school anyway. And as for the idea of escorting truants back to the classrooms, would you please explain how that is going to benefit anybody? Can you imagine trying to captivate the attention of a child who has just had an exciting chase around the shopping centre and a hero's ride in a police car to the school gates? It strikes me that neither you nor Mr Patten know much about the realities of teaching if you think that's a feasible proposition.
I hope some of this causes you concern, Mr Forth. Do take care with that pounds 14m.Reuse content