Truants 'select lessons to miss from school': Pupils complain about 'lack of enjoyment'

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The Independent Online
MOST pupils who play truant do so to avoid particular lessons, not because they dislike school, a survey of 14 and 15-year-olds has found. The most unpopular subjects are physical education and French, followed by religious education.

The report, Truancy in English Secondary Schools, is the result of a year-long survey on truancy in 150 English schools - the largest of its kind - carried out for the Department of Education by Dennis O'Keeffe and Patricia Stoll at the University of North London.

The researchers examined both blanket truancy - where children simply fail to turn up at school - and absence from lessons within the school day, defined as Post Registration Truancy (PRT). Up to now, there has been little research into PRT, and the findings cast doubt on the validity of truancy figures which schools will have to provide for the first time at the end of this term.

The report said that many local education authorities had hardly thought of PRT as a distinct phenomenon, and that almost everywhere the problem was underestimated. But heads will not have to take into account numbers of those who fail to appear in particular lessons.

In the past there has been a reliance on attendance registers for truancy figures and this has led to a truancy figure of around 15 per cent. By issuing confidential questionnaires to 37,683 pupils this survey has uncovered a much higher level of truancy.

The results, from 20 local authorities, show that one in three of all 14 and 15-year-old pupils said they had truanted at least once in the half term before the survey was carried out, and the level was markedly higher amongst the older pupils. Among these 15-year-old truants, nearly one in 10 had truanted at least once a week during their last compulsory year of school when they had GCSE exams.

The report says it is likely that of the 17 per cent of pupils who were not in school on the day the questionnaires were filled in, some must have been truanting. 'It is proper, then, to stress that the situation is worse than the results show.'

Patricia Stoll hopes that the Department for Education will now ask for post registration figures from heads. The only way to get correct figures, she says, is if teachers take the register at every lesson.

There was clear evidence that the more a pupil truanted, the more the truanting was linked with a dislike of lessons.

Complaints about the lessons included lack of enjoyment, irrelevance, or that they were too hard. Pupils also remarked upon the unlikeable personalities of their teachers.

Of the third of students in the survey who truant, only about one in three actually dislike school. Almost one in five say that it is because of the coursework and one in seven find the lessons too hard. A tenth mentioned that they disliked the teacher. Surprisingly, more than half of all the truants wanted to stay on at school.

Very few of those who truanted - one in 100 - did so because of bullying.

Single sex girls' schoool have consistently lower levels of truancy than mixed or single sex boys' schools. The size of school had no effect on the level of truancy, thus dispelling the myth that smaller schools could develop a more supportive ethos.

The researchers were startled to find the lowest levels of truancy associated with notoriously depressed areas. A poor Northern area apparently did best in the battle against truancy while many affluent areas had high levels.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said that the report appeared to 'exaggerate ' the problem.

'Classes are simply not that empty', he said, 'Some pupils invent excuses for missing lessons like PE and then boast they are playing truant. I would treat the report with some scepticism.'