HC Deb 29 November 1977 vol 940 cc240-2
2. Mr. Haselhurst

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is her estimate of the current level of truancy in secondary schools in England and Wales at the latest available date.

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

A survey in 1974 of attend- ance in all maintained middle and secondary schools in England and Wales showed that just over 2 per cent. of pupils were absent without a known legitimate reason on the day of the survey. On the basis of a number of more recent local surveys of which we are aware, this proportion seems to have remained more or less constant.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is it not true that in some schools in inner city areas the truancy absenteeism is of the order of 50 per cent? Is it not also likely that for those who play physical truant there are many more playing mental truant? Is it not, therefore, apparent that some alternative means need to be devised whereby we can assist in preparing for work many young people who will otherwise be kissing goodbye to the education system?

Miss Jackson

I know of no evidence to suggest that the figure the hon. Gentleman quotes, of 50 per cent. absence, is substantially correct. If he knows of any examples I should be grateful if he would let me know. Certainly we are aware of the problem of keeping the interest of young people, particularly in their last year at school. There has been a great deal of discussion and work on how to do this through, for example, work experience schemes.

Mr. Sims

Is the hon. Lady aware that a court appearance accompanied by an appropriate warning can often have a salutary effect both on the truant and his or her parent? Is she satisfied that education and welfare officers are aware of their powers, and will she ensure that they are fully used?

Miss Jackson

I am satisfied that education and welfare officers know their powers and that they use them. However, it is known from some of the recent surveys that in quite a number of cases parents are consenting to the absence of their children. But it is for the local authorities to decide—and they do so usually on sound grounds—when and how they intend to bring a prosecution.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a danger of becoming obsessed with the problem of truancy and forgetting about the important rôle of the education and welfare officer and the service that he can provide particularly with regard to school clothes and other items that are mentioned in a later Question?