HC Deb 04 May 1976 vol 910 cc1038-40
1. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he plans with local education authorities on the subject of truancy and other behavioural problems.

23. Mr. O'Halloran

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is his up-to-date estimate of the number of days lost through truancy; and if he will make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Margaret Jackson)

My right hon. Friend is inviting the local authority, teacher and education welfare associations to meet him in June. One of the matters to be considered will be truancy. The only national figures at present available are those already given to the House following the survey of absence on a day in January 1974.

Mr. McCrindle

While I am grateful to the Minister for telling the House of these proposed meetings, may I ask her to confirm that the problem of truancy shows no sign of abating? In these circumstances, would it not be a good starting point if we were to be a little more aware of the size of the problem? To that end, would she and her right hon. Friend consider asking local education authorities to publish the truancy statistics for their areas, so that we may thereafter go forward to determine whether the penalties on parents, arising from truancy, are adequate today?

Miss Jackson

I do not entirely accept the Gentleman's initial statement, that this problem is increasing in size. We think that some of the aspects which contributed to truancy, such as the raising of the school leaving age, have been assimilated to some extent. We recognise that there is still a grave problem. The hon. Gentleman asks about the size of the problem and talks of local authorities collecting and publishing more statistics. This is precisely the kind of thing that my right hon. Friend wants to discuss with the local education authorities in June. As the House will accept, this is not only a time-consuming but a costly business, which will involve schools and local authorities in much work. This is the sort of problem we wish to raise with them.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Does my hon. Friend agree that a considerable contribution could be made towards solving the problem if a more defined rôle was produced for education welfare officers? Does my hon. Friend accept that it is high time that a more definite career structure was introduced for these officers?

Miss Jackson

We are very much aware of the rôle of the education welfare officers and the valuable contribution that they make to the problem. This is precisely the sort of thing that we are hoping to discuss in June. I have said that the officers are to be included in the discussions.

Mr. Ward

When she meets them, will my hon. Friend impress upon local authorities the fact that the publication of the type of crude figures to which Conservative Members are referring can be misleading to the public? Will she remember that authorities like the Inner London Education Authority, which has explored these figures in depth, have found that often what is called truancy is something that can be wholly explained by the social circumstances of families?

Miss Jackson

I accept that point. This is a complex issue, and one that needs to be carefully considered. It is also important for hon. Members to consider whether what they say here will contribute to an understanding of the problem, or will make it worse.

Dr. Boyson

Does the hon. Lady agree that a spot check done by inspectors or outsiders is more likely to give us the right figures than the figures that are prepared by the schools? Is she aware that for the January 1974 figures, schools were warned two months beforehand and that in certain cases pupils were told that if they were going to be away they should be away on Wednesday and Friday, and not Thursday, because the check was being made then?

Miss Jackson

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has made that point before. I am sorry to have to reiterate that the way in which the statistics will be collected is precisely the kind of question that the meeting has been arranged to discuss.

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