Troubleshooters to tackle truancy

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The Independent Online
SCHOOLS COULD be given full-time troubleshooters to deal with pupils' domestic problems if pilot projects in the inner cities proved successful, the Government said yesterday.

Eight hundred "learning mentors" will start work in 450 urban schools over the next two years, under plans to reduce expulsions and truancy by one-third. They will not teach, although most will be qualified teachers.

Yesterday Estelle Morris, the School Standards minister and a former secondary school teacher, told a conference in London: "My memory was that you went to school every day wanting to teach, and spent a lot of time doing other things because the children needed it. You were a first- aider, a counsellor, a financial adviser.

"Far too often we have said to teachers, `You have to teach, you aren't social workers'. But sometimes it is very difficult to do that, because children can't learn until all of these problems have been dealt with."

Ms Morris was speaking at the launch of a series of government awards for schools able to cut truancy. The pounds 10,000 "truancy buster" bursaries will help teachers from 50 schools to share their experiences.

An estimated 1 million children play truant each year and government figures suggest that 50,000 miss school every day. Ministers have increased the penalties for parents who do not send their children to school and have encouraged schools to take up high-tech solutions such as swipe cards to check children in and out of lessons and pagers for parents to let them know when their children fail to turn up.

Ms Morris said the mentors would work to help children with problems at home, or show bright youngsters how to make the best of their abilities.

She said: "I used to feel when I was a teacher that if I had had someone who could go to a child's home and talk to their parents and help sort out these problems, then my job was possible. Learning mentors can work alongside teachers and achieve that."