Heads urged to text parents of truants

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The Independent Online

Schools should contact parents within an hour if their child plays truant, a government review of education welfare services suggested yesterday.

The Government is also insisting education welfare officers agree targets with individual schools to improve their attendance records.

The measures are proposed in a review of education welfare services to be conducted over the next few months. The review is also likely to lead to more education welfare officers being based in schools rather than working from local authority offices.

Announcing the review yesterday, Ivan Lewis, an Education minister, said: "Without attending school, a child's life is blighted. If you don't nip truancy in the bud and get in there quick, firstly the child suffers - but secondly it is society itself that suffers."

Fifty per cent of youngsters who regularly play truant from schools end up committing crimes, research suggests.

Mr Lewis added that it will be the responsibility of head teachers that calls are made to parents within an hour. But he added: "They need support and advice, and we need to ensure that the education welfare service gives them that."

He said he expected more schools to adopt electronic registration systems to meet the new target. Schools also needed to set up a database of parents' mobile telephone numbers so that they could send them a text message if the child failed to turn up. "If a child doesn't turn up at school and there is no explanation, shouldn't somebody be making inquiries as to where that child is?" he asked. "It may be they are at home, but it may be they left home saying they were going to school - in which case we need to look for them because they may be on the street."

Mr Lewis also warned that education welfare officers would have to adopt a tougher line on taking the parents of persistent truants to court.

His announcement was made the day before a report by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, which is expected to express concern over the fact that one in five 16-year-olds leaves school with few qualifications and little prospect of continuing in education. David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, has demanded action to reduce what he calls the "drop-out rate".

The review of the education welfare service is part of a £470m three-year drive to crack down on truancy and indiscipline in schools. One of the most successful elements of the drive so far has been to set up a network of pupil referral units - "sinbins - in every local education authority so that all pupils excluded from school are guaranteed a full-time education.

Mr Lewis said: "We need to move on from there now and make sure the quality of education provision we give these children is good."