Truancy league tables scorned

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS are reconsidering plans for league tables of school truancy rates in the face of strong opposition from the teaching profession, it was announced yesterday.

Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education, told a conference on truancy that next year's league tables might record total absence rates as well as truancy rates.

The move appears to be an attempt to avoid a repetition of the row over this year's truancy league tables, due to be published on Wednesday.

Head teachers protested that a requirement to record 'unauthorised absences' produced meaningless results and encouraged schools to massage their figures. If a child's mother took him shopping, then sent him back to school with a note saying he had been ill, his absence would be recorded as authorised. School- by-school truancy tables for primary schools were abandoned after some head teachers refused to produce figures.

Reaction to yesterday's suggestion, made at a conference on truancy organised by the University of North London, was not favourable. One expert suggested that league tables giving details of all absences would merely record levels of sickness in different areas of the country.

Baroness Blatch told the conference that government grants for new technology to record absences more efficiently would ease the problem of truancy, but that schools must also be more vigilant.

'It has been suggested that some schools are less stringent than others when considering whether or not a particular absence should be authorised.

''What we are talking about at the end of the day is a pupil required by law to be in school who is absent without good cause, and that is something which should concern all of us,' she said.

She added that schools with high truancy rates might be failing to make their lessons interesting enough. This view was backed, she said, by research carried out by Dr Dennis O'Keeffe at the University of North London. The research, published earlier this year, showed PE and French to be the most unpopular subjects, and that one in three secondary school pupils admitted playing truant during a six- week period during the winter.

Dr O'Keeffe said yesterday that recording absences instead of truancies would not produce meaningful figures. While he appreciated the need to inform parents about truancy, he could not see a sensible way of doing it, he said.