Ministers abandon target of cutting truancy by 10%

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The Independent Online

The Government's target of cutting truancy by 10 per cent is to be scrapped amid growing expectations that it will not be hit. Ministers plan to switch to a system under which schools will measure attendance rates instead of collecting data on "authorised" and "unauthorised" absences for each half day.

The Government's target of cutting truancy by 10 per cent is to be scrapped amid growing expectations that it will not be hit. Ministers plan to switch to a system under which schools will measure attendance rates instead of collecting data on "authorised" and "unauthorised" absences for each half day.

They deny the move is designed to enable them to escape criticism for failing to hit their target to reduce truancy by 10 per cent between 2002 and this year, saying people will know whether it has been achieved before the change is made.

Despite a government drive to cut truancy, the rate has dropped only slightly and an estimated 50,000 children miss school each day without good reason - a total of about one million absences in a year.

The absence rate for schools in England was 6.83 per cent in the 2002-03 academic year, of which 6.13 per cent were authorised absences such as illness and 0.7 per cent were unauthorised, the Department for Education and Skills said.

Ministers will argue that the attendance rate - 93.17 per cent in the same year - would provide a more accurate picture of what is happening. They are sympathetic to pressure from teachers who no longer want to distinguish between authorised and unauthorised absences.

While ministers admit that progress in cutting truancy has been slower than they had hoped, they insist that attendance rates have improved in 133 of the 150 local education authorities. They say that children are playing truant for shorter periods and that since last year the equivalent of an entire secondary school has "gone back" to class.

But the Tories claim the Government will miss two targets on truancy, having failed to honour a previous pledge to reduce it by a third between 1998 and 2002. They dismiss the chance of achieving a further 10 per cent cut by this year as "minuscule".

The proposed change will fuel criticism that Labour is "moving the goalposts" by scrapping many of its public service performance targets before they are due to be hit.

Gordon Brown signalled a new approach in his pre-Budget report in November, after criticism that the "targets culture" was out of control. Yesterday John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, announced that more than 700 NHS targets are to be replaced by 24 vaguer "core standards" from next year, but denied that the star ratings for hospitals would be scrapped.

Downing Street was unable to say how many targets had been dropped in the past six months. Tony Blair's spokesman said: "Targets are there to achieve outcomes and set national standards. That process is there to stay. Just because we are refining and adapting targets, it doesn't mean we are abandoning the process of setting national standards and trying to achieve them."

The Government says that about half of truants stopped on the streets by anti-truancy patrols are accompanied by parents. It has announced plans to allow education welfare officers and police to fine parents who do not ensure that their children attend school.

Mother may face prison again over daughter's truancy

By Sarah Cassidy, Education Correspondent

Patricia Amos, the first parent to be jailed for her children's truancy, was yesterday found guilty of the same offence after her youngest daughter failed to attend school regularly.

Mrs Amos, from Banbury, Oxfordshire, let her 14-year-old daughter Jacqueline Bird avoid class almost every other day, Bicester magistrates heard yesterday.

Her attendance record at Banbury School between May and October 2003 was 34 per cent, education officers told the court. The case was adjourned but Mrs Amos could be fined up to £2,500 or jailed for a maximum of three months.

The prosecution said that despite repeated phone calls, home visits and written warnings, Mrs Amos failed to account for many of her daughter's absences. Mrs Amos argued that she had made "every effort" to get her daughter to go to school. Jacqueline told the court that her mother was not to blame for her truancy, but this was rejected by magistrates.

Mrs Amos was jailed in May 2002 for 60 days because her two daughters Emma and Jacqueline persistently played truant from school. She was released on appeal after serving 28 days.

She vowed to make sure that her daughters attended lessons. Emma, 16, proved that she had learnt her lesson by winning an English prize when she took her GCSEs last summer. Mrs Amos's case was seized on by ministers as evidence that imprisoning parents could change the behaviour of persistent truants and their parents.

However, research has suggested that jailing the parents of truants does not work. Families of persistent truants have so many entrenched problems that imprisonment or fines had little chance of changing their behaviour the study found.

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