HC Deb 23 April 1991 vol 189 cc886-7
3. Mr. Holt

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what information he has on the current level of truancy and on the figure for each of the past 10 years; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Michael Fallon)

The proposals that we published last week will enable truancy levels to be measured, for the first time, on a standard national basis. They require schools to record attendance in a way which identifies unauthorised absence, and to publish their rates of unauthorised absence.

Mr. Holt

I thank my hon. Friend for that statement, which is overdue. Will he look again at the inflexibility of the school-leaving age and perhaps link truancy with training? Is he aware that in France, Germany and Italy, youngsters are allowed to leave school and embark on a proper training course or apprenticeship, so long as it is an integral part of education? Is he aware that that would reduce truancy because young hands and minds could get involved with something they know and understand? At the moment, some youngsters who are forced to stay on at school until 16-plus as a minimum, often become the truants who cause the vandalism and troubles in our society.

Mr. Fallon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks about our proposals. We want to see a better and earlier vocational training in schools, which is why my right hon. and learned Friend decided in January to allow schools more flexibility over the curriculum from the age of 14 onwards.

Miss Lestor

I thank the Minister for sending me a copy of his proposals, which I received yesterday. Is he aware that punitive methods and measures in relation to young truants will not necessarily be effective unless more work is done in looking at how youngsters who are truanting spend their time? I think that he will find, if he talks to his colleagues in the Department of Employment and studies the report on the illegal working of children, that large numbers of young truants are working illegally.

Mr. Fallon

I know of the hon. Lady's long-standing interest in the matter. If she has any evidence that children are being employed illegally, she should forward it to my Department or to the Department of Employment. I accept that it is not simply a question of punitive measures. We have, under the Children Act 1989, new instruments, such as education supervision orders, which come into force later this year, and which I hope local education authorities will consider alongside the increased fines that are proposed in the Criminal Justice Bill.

Mrs. Gorman

Having taught in secondary schools for 10 years before coming to this place, I am aware that truancy is often linked to tedium. Will my hon. Friend accept that the curriculum is still far too academic as it concentrates on the passing of O-levels and does not contain sufficient in the way of practical subjects to interest children? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) that we should consider allowing children to leave school a little younger so that they can obtain the experience of practical work that they desire.

Mr. Fallon

Hon. Members will agree that children should leave school fitted for the world of work. We want schools to have more flexibility so as to ensure better and earlier vocational training alongside more traditional academic achievements.

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