HC Deb 23 April 1985 vol 77 cc725-6
1. Mr. Hayes

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to announce the details of his renewed effort to tackle truancy, as promised in the White Paper "Better Schools".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Bob Dunn)

As my right hon. Friend said in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) on 22 March, at column 626, a draft circular on school attendance and education welfare services was sent on 21 March to local authority and teacher associations and to other relevant organisations. Comments on the document have been sought by the end of June and it is hoped that the final version of the circular will be issued soon after that date.

Mr. Hayes

Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem of truancy is particularly worrying in the fourth and fifth years, especially in the light of a recent report that in Salford schools 20 per cent. non-attendance occurs every day? Does my hon. Friend regret the shocking fact that today's truant is very often tomorrow's unemployed, and, worse still, tomorrow's unemployable?

Mr. Dunn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing to my attention and that of the House the report on the school in the city of Salford. I undertake that inquiries will be made. I am sure that the House will accept his other observation as well. There are a number of reasons why young people play truant from school, and we are grappling with the causes in many ways. I hope that, in future, many people who encourage children to play truant, whether parents, employers or others, will think long and wisely about their action in taking young people out of the classroom, which can only be to the detriment of the young people concerned.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not clear that the lack of motivation for many young people in schools, which stems from the knowledge that they will be thrown on the scrapheap as soon as they leave school, with no job to go to, is one of the main causes of truancy? Is it not also clear that a better pupil-teacher ratio, so that children can be better taught, particularly at that age, would be helpful? When the Minister has handled that problem, will he deal with the truancy in this place, which is enormous compared with that in schools?

Mr. Dunn

My responsibilities do not extend to the House. The hon Gentleman's interpretation is, as usual, far too simplistic and therefore unhelpful. There are a variety of reasons why young people play truant, and we should address our minds to those matters rather than make party political points.

Mr. Favell

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways to combat truancy is to improve the quality, and not the quantity, of teachers, as the better the teacher the easier it is to maintain the interest of a pupil?

Mr. Dunn

I agree, and we are attempting to make the curriculum broader and more relevant and attractive to young people who are, to use the vernacular, turned off by what happens in schools today. My hon. Friend is right in his interpretation of what is needed.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that since the end of the war the level of truancy in shire county schools has hardly changed, by and large, taking into account areas such as that covered by the Derbyshire education authority? Will he bear in mind that I agree with my hon. Friend the member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) that it is bordering on hypocrisy for Tory Members to talk about absenteeism when some hon. Members turn up for less than 30 per cent. of the time —[Interruption] like the leader of the SDP, who voted in only 30 per cent. of all the Divisions in the last parliamentary Session?

Mr. Dunn

There was an Opposition debate yesterday on the social services, during which the Opposition Benches were empty. If the proportions had remained the same as they were in 1945, far too many young people would still be playing truant from school.