HC Deb 12 February 1991 vol 185 cc715-6
1. Mr. Pawsey

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action is being taken to reduce rates of truancy.

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

My right hon. and learned Friend is providing grant of £ 6.5 million for projects in 31 local education authorities to improve attendance in designated schools. We shall shortly be issuing to local authorities and others guidance on education supervision orders which the Children Act 1989 will provide from October.

We are considering whether further measures are necessary.

Mr. Pawsey

I thank my hon. Friend for that detailed and helpful response. Does he think that local education authorities are playing their full part in ensuring that children attend school and, when they reach school, stay there? Will my hon. Friend consider publishing a table by local education authorities to show truancy levels?

Mr. Fallon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Parents are responsible for ensuring that their children turn up at school. Local authorities have the power to prosecute, but not all of them appear to do so, although they should. I shall consider publishing a table. We need better information and parents and the public are supposed to know which local authorities are performing properly.

Miss Lestor

Is the Minister aware that questions that I have tabled asking for a national assessment on truancy have not been answered, on the basis that the Government do not collect those statistics nationally, so there is no clear picture of the problem? Does he agree that one of the biggest problems is that many youngsters who play truant—it is estimated that there are about 100,000 at any one time—work illegally, often because of unemployment in the area or for other reasons? That problem needs urgent attention.

Mr. Fallon

On the first part of the hon. Lady's question, we are considering whether we can collect and publish the figures on a national basis. At present, they are not collected or published uniformly by the local education authorities. On the second part of the hon. Lady's question, she is right that there is a link between truancy and criminality. It is, therefore, important to ensure that more pupils turn up at school.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Is my hon. Friend aware that some parents do not know that their children are playing truant from school? Will he ensure that everything possible is done by schools and others to ensure that parents are informed immediately absences are noted and are encouraged to do everything they can to take responsibility for their children's future attendance in education?

Mr. Fallon

My hon. Friend makes a good case for further guidance, which should include reminding parents of their responsibilities and ensuring that the school informs them as quickly as possible.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister confirm that he has no evidence of the pairing system operating in schools in Britain? Is he aware that if there were a pairing system called "organised truancy" and the rates were as bad as they are for voting in the House of Commons, the attendance rate in schools would be less than 50 per cent? The truth is that there is not a school in Britain with less than 80 per cent. attendance.

Mr. Fallon

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the definition of truancy. We shall have to consider whether the regulations need to be clarified to distinguish between absence that is justified—the child may be sick or have a good reason for being absent—and the sort of unauthorised absence that the Patronage Secretary might recognise.