Missing Girls Found: Teachers must tell parents `as soon as children go missing'

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TEACHERS SHOULD contact parents within hours if their children fail to turn up at school, according to government guidelines published yesterday.

In some cases attendance has improved by 10 per cent after schools adopted a policy of contacting parents immediately a pupil was found to be absent.

The guidelines, which strengthen previous advice to teachers, come after it was revealed that the parents of Lisa Hoodless and Charlene Lunnon did not know the girls were missing until they failed to return home at the usual time. The school did not contact them straight away, even though the children had no history of truancy.

Under the new guidelines school staff should contact parents "wherever possible". The guide, published as part of a pounds 65m programme to cut truancy, said a policy of contacting parents was "strongly recommended" as a way of preventing problems.

But teachers' leaders warned the changes would be difficult to enforce.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said most staff followed up absences the day after children had failed to arrive, and staff would be "extremely concerned" at the change.

He said: "It will place considerable pressure on schools and the resources they have at their disposal if they have to follow up all absences by first day contact."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: "It's a very good idea to contact parents, but it's very difficult to put into operation.

"There are practical problems. A 300-pupil primary school might have 10 per cent of pupils off on any one day. To make 30 calls would take a member of staff all day."

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent- Teacher Associations, called on schools to improve their checks on absent pupils.

She said: "It is not unusual for a school to wait for a sick note if a child does not come in. It is also not unusual for two friends to be off, because they are likely to get a cold at the same time.

"The first onus is on parents to call in if their children are sick, but if they do not, schools should phone home. At the end of the day if you are a small school and have only a few children off it is better for the head to take five minutes out of class to make sure the children are safe.

"Many schools say that if a child is not in school by 9.30am they will call the parents. That's a very good idea," Ms Morrissey added.

"Today's habitual truant will be tomorrow's criminal unless we act decisively now.

"We must crack down on truancy and classroom delinquency.

"The guidance we are issuing today, for consultation, shows teachers what is successful in improving pupil behaviour and attendance, how to prevent avoidable exclusions and how to provide an education for children who have been excluded."