HC Deb 23 January 1974 vol 867 cc1628-9
3. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many truancy officers have been appointed in Scotland ; and by which education authorities.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office (Mr. Hector Monro)

There is no regular return by education authorities but the most recent information suggested that 20 authorities employed some 280 officials whose duties include attendance.

Mr. Dempsey

Is the Minister aware that this is a growing and challenging problem to local education authorities and that notwithstanding the shortage of professional teaching staffs it has been known for teachers to drive around in mini-buses to find absconders and bring them back to school? Is it not time that the Under-Secretary arranged for a top-level inquiry into the degree of defaults in Scotland at present, with a view to taking the necessary remedial action.

Mr. Monro

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. My Department gave guidance on this serious problem two years ago, and we are now urgently considering what further steps to take.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

What on earth is a truancy officer?

Mr. Monro

His duties include finding out why children are not in their places in school.

Mrs. MacDonald

Does the Minister agree that the truancy problem in Scotland could be partially solved if he agreed to allow 16-year-olds, who are now forced to remain in school until the first available leaving date, to leave on their 16th birthday, as many of them are non-certificated pupils with no interest in remaining in school and are not catered for owing to the shortfall in teachers in Scotland?

Mr. Monro

I do not want to go in depth into the last part of the hon. Lady's question. This is one of the matters we are considering very carefully before deciding what action to take in the very near future. I hope not to become too deeply involved in the question of the dates on which pupils should leave school, because my right hon. Friend and I have said that we shall perhaps review the matter later in the year.

Mr. Ross

Can the Minister give us advance information about the number of 16-year-olds who left school and are still without a job? We shall have the figure tomorrow. May we have it today?

Mr. Monro

No, Sir.