HC Deb 22 March 1983 vol 39 cc708-9
4. Mr. Heddle

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if his Department issues guidance to local education authorities on truancy.

Dr. Boyson

The main responsibility for school attendance rests with local education authorities. However, I share my hon. Friend's concern about the problems of truancy. We have recently sought information about truancy from a selection of authorities.

Mr. Heddle

As 12,000 school children between the ages of 11 and 15 were convicted of criminal offences in the west midlands alone last year, and as 15 out of every 100 secondary school children are known to have a history of hard core truancy, does my hon. Friend accept that there is a direct link between hard core truancy and teenage crime? If so, what steps does he propose to take to make parents more responsible, teachers more accountable and the courts more effective?

Dr. Boyson

That is a wide question. I read the article that my hon. Friend recently wrote on this issue. From the research that I have seen, which is available to other hon. Members, it would seem that there is undoubtedly a connection between hard core truancy—I believe that was my hon. Friend's phrase—and criminal activity. We are having informal discussions with local authority bodies because we are concerned about the figures. Indeed, a recent survey in inner London showed that about 10 per cent. of pupils aged 11 were absent from school and that about 25 per cent. were absent by the age of 15. That is very serious.

Mr. Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that pupils play truant from school when the school courses are not up to the proper standard? What is my hon. Friend's view of the practice of the French Socialist Government of withholding family benefit from the parents of children who persistently play truant?

Dr. Boyson

It is no doubt true that if pupils do not consider that their school courses bear any direct relationship to the life that they will lead outside school they are more likely to play truant. The idea of the new technical and vocational education initiative is to make school more relevant to all our pupils. I believe that my hon. Friend has recently been to France, and I look forward to the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Social Security having consultations with him.

Mr. Marks

Will the Minister agree not to take the line that has been suggested? I know that the Government like to punish the worst off families, but that would hit them very hard. Will the hon. Gentleman take into consideration not only hard core truancy but the fact that much juvenile delinquency occurs when children occasionally play truant, perhaps because they do not like a teacher or because there are troubles at home? Does he agree that checking up in the schools can act as a form of protection against that?

Dr. Boyson

The hon. Gentleman has considerable experience of schools. I agree that the education and welfare officer—who was once called the school attendance officer and who at least knew what he was doing—has an essential part to play in getting children to school. The hon. Gentleman implied that the Government might take it out on hard-luck families, but that is not true. We are concerned that all children should have a genuine feeling for life and a good education. That is why we want them all to be in school.