Schools to page families of truants

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The Independent Online
Ministers yesterday backed new ways to tackle truancy including a scheme which will use electronic pagers to tell parents that their children are not in school.

Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, announced that the Government was spending pounds 22m on 119 locally devised programmes to improve attendance and behaviour and to reduce the number of permanent exclusions.

He said: "Truancy has wide ramifications for the whole community. We want to see an end to children hanging around street corners and possibly getting involved in petty crime or coming to harm themselves."

One scheme, being tried out in Durham, will issue pagers to the parents of pupils who show signs of becoming persistent truants. If children fail to register or miss a class, teachers will send a message to a parent requesting a call to the school.

In Wolverhampton, parents will be given assertive discipline training to help them insist that their children attend school. Other pupils will also be used to persuade their classmates not to play truant. Devon plans to appoint "return to school" tutors to work with children who are reluctant to go to school. Walsall will operate a system of pupil passes. Bristol will aim to cut the number of exclusions by introducing a mentoring scheme for black pupils.

More than 1 million pupils are estimated to have missed at least one half-day session without permission from schools. In 1995-96, there were 12,500 permanent exclusions from school, an increase of 13 per cent on the previous year.

Mr Byers, a member of the new Social Exclusion Unit, said: "We want to stress the importance of early action to stop children from skipping school or misbehaving in class.

"These projects will be invaluable in providing the Prime Minister's new Social Exclusion Unit with examples of how new approaches can address the growing problem of permanent exclusion and truancy, the scale of which is disturbing."