Police to round up truants

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The Independent Online
POLICE are to be given sweeping new powers to take school truants off the streets under a package of measures to be announced tomorrow.

The Government will also draw up national guidelines to prevent children being banned from schools for minor offences, and offer cash to those that take difficult pupils.

The plans, which will be unveiled by Tony Blair at a London college, set out the ambitious target of cutting truancy and permanent exclusions by one third in three years.

According to Government figures, more than one million children play truant a year and in 1996 there were 100,000 temporary and 13,000 permanent exclusions.

The report from the Government's social exclusion unit, consisting of experts, officials and politicians, has produced 29 recommendations. Ministers will act quickly to put several into law.

At present police do not have the power to apprehend children who are truanting unless they are committing an offence.

The Crime and Disorder Bill will be amended to give police new powers to act in consultation with local education authorities. Mechanisms will be set up whereby truants are returned to school rather than taken intocustody. In persistent cases parents will be held responsible.

Schools will also be given incentives to help tackle the issue. They include "dowries" which will go to schools which take on children permanently excluded from others, possibly with bonuses for those that achieve examination success.

Ministers will also act to ensure that children who are excluded permanently from schools achieve a proper education. At present, some children who are sent to Pupil Referral Units receive relatively little classroom teaching - sometimes just a few hours a week. They are to be included in a guarantee of full-time education for all.

The Government wants to draw up a national framework to try to combat the crisis of steadily rising exclusions.

This will be put into education legislation and will lay down guidelines preventing schools from excluding children for minor offences or inappropriate reasons. For example some schools exclude pupils for minor disciplinary breeches and some teenage girls have been excluded for becoming pregnant.

Other measures will be laid down to improve school management and discipline to avoid the crisis points which often lead to exclusions.

Ministers have identified school exclusion as an acute social as well as an educational problem. The police calculate that, in London, 40 per cent of robberies are committed by 10-16-year-olds in school hours.