Truancy project has had no impact

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, is facing a new headache after it emerged that £650m spent on initiatives to reduce the school truancy rate has had no impact.

A series of parliamentary written replies showed that the truancy rate, measured as a percentage of half-days lost, remains at 0.7 per cent.

The shadow Education Secretary, Damian Green, said an analysis of the figures also showed that truancy measured by the number of children who skip school has risen by 15 per cent overall since 1997 and by 25 per cent in secondary schools. Mr Green told The Times that headteachers needed greater powers to crack down on truants.

The statistics will be an embarrassment for Mr Clarke, who is already dealing with a school funding crisis. But a Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "We have said before that it will take time to turn around the truancy problem and that is why we brought in new measures including imprisonment for parents who let their children persistently truant."

* Tony Blair's flagship project to improve inner-city schools was called into question yesterday by a leaked report of Ofsted inspectors. The Excellence in Cities programme has cost £800m since it was launched by the Prime Minister in 1999. But while the programme has successfully reduced bad behaviour, expulsions and truancy, its impact on pupils' results has been less marked, the Ofsted report says.