Sick children 'were treated as truants'

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

Truancy figures in school league tables are to be revised after teachers protested that the Government had published misleading information last autumn.

Instead of merely containing information on unauthorised absences in secondary schools, this year's tables will also give details of authorised absences. Critics claimed that sick children were marked down as truants if they failed to bring a note, and that children whose parents kept them off without good reason often returned with a sick note and did not appear on the tables.

This year parents and others will be able to see the total percentage of half-days missed in any school, John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, said yesterday. He denied that his department had got it wrong last year. 'I don't think it was misleading at all - it was the first time we have done it. We are revising the tables in the light of consultation,' he said.

Mr Patten suggested that 'value-added' measures of schools' exam results could be introduced by next year. These could indicate whether a school's performance had improved or declined in the past five years, he said.

Mr Patten has asked the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority to look at ways in which such tables could be compiled.

Other changes have been made to the tables, which will contain GCSE and A-level results for all schools and will be published in November.

In addition to the absenteeism figures, information on the number of teaching hours per week in each school will be included.

Mr Patten asked Ofsted, the schools' inspection body, to investigate this area after it was revealed that many schools were teaching less than the recommended minimum hours, which are 21 hours for five- to seven-year-olds, 23.5 hours for eight- to 11-year-olds and 24 hours for 12- to 16-year-olds.

However, the Ofsted report concluded that these variations had little bearing on exam results, and Mr Patten asked for further work to be done. The second report should be complete by the end of this month.

The Government's planned league tables have been revised substantially in the face of a teachers' boycott of National Curriculum testing. Results of tests for seven and 14-year-olds will not be released school by although national totals will be published.

John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, said most head teachers would regard the exercise as a waste of time. Parents received much more information from inspectors who now visit each school every four years, he said.

'Mr Patten has discovered that what he had last time was meaningless so he has put in more figures to make it even more meaningless.'