HC Deb 25 June 1974 vol 875 cc1180-1
2. Mr. Duffy

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has received a copy of the special survey of chronic absenteeism from schools carried out jointly by Sheffield Schools Psychological Service and its education welfare officers; and what is his policy towards its conclusions.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Reg Prentice)

Findings from this survey and others are among the information being taken into account in the investigation my Department is undertaking into absences from school.

Mr. Duffy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this survey dispels a public myth about education in Sheffield—that is, that the size of the secondary school has a bearing on the size of the absentee problem? Nor is chronic absenteeism primarily a problem of truancy but is rather one of attitudes in the home and the school. When will the Secretary of State equip teachers to recognise and to help children who are likely to become chronic absentees through personal and social problems?

Mr. Prentice

My hon. Friend is correct in the two conclusions to which he has referred. In particular it turned out that some smaller schools had the worst rate of truancy and some of the largest schools had the least truancy. As to the work we are doing, the Department has prepared a statistical survey relating to a particular day in January—I hope to publish the results of that in a few weeks' time—and a wider study, which will be published later, in which other evidence will be taken into account. I think that there will be a number of lessons to be learned from these studies by everyone in the education service.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Would not the very considerable talents of the right hon. Gentleman and his Department be better employed in investigating the problems which really concern parents, such as truancy, the indiscipline in some schools and the maintenance of academic standards, rather than in reviving the sterile battle between comprehensive and grammar schools?

Mr. Prentice

We are working hard on all the matters to which the hon. Gentleman refers. In congratulating him on becoming Shadow Minister of Education and giving him the traditional message of wishing him many long and happy years in that office, may I say that what he has just said tends to bear out the impression given, I am afraid, by his speech at the weekend—that we shall hear rather less from the Opposition Front Bench about educational values and rather more about some of the murkier parts of the folklore of the Conservative Party.