HC Deb 02 February 2000 vol 343 cc1029-30
4. Mrs. Sylvia Heal (Halesowen and Rowley Regis)

What progress is being made in implementing the social exclusion unit's report on truancy. [106586]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam)

Good progress is being made in implementing the social exclusion unit's report and, as part of that process, the Department for Education and Employment recently launched "Tackling Truancy Together" for consultation. My right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards and I are monitoring progress within and across Departments in Whitehall and beyond.

Mrs. Heal

I welcome the action that my right hon. Friend and her ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education and Employment are taking to tackle truancy and exclusion, as about 1 million children are truanting and many thousands are excluded. There is no doubt that more has to be done to cut those numbers, so I am delighted that a new unit is to be established at Britannia school in Rowley Regis to tackle that very problem. The social exclusion unit has set out an action plan to reduce those numbers by a third by 2002. Is my right hon. Friend confident that we can meet that ambitious target?

Marjorie Mowlam

As chair of the ministerial network that exists to ensure that we meet our targets by working with Ministers across Departments, I firmly believe that we have a chance.

We have put an extra £500 million into the policy, so there is money "on the ground"—as with the unit that has been established in the school that my hon. Friend mentioned. We have introduced guidelines to help schools deal with truancy, and in April we will introduce a dowry system that will give children who repeatedly truant, or are socially excluded, grants to enable them to attend schools that will provide for their needs.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

I am glad that the right hon. Lady has taken responsibility for the social exclusion unit, thus ensuring that there is leadership at Cabinet level. I hope, however, that she will pay particular attention to the role of child mental health services in truancy cases. Truancy may be the beginning of a delinquent career, but it may also be an indication that things are seriously wrong for a child. There is a real problem here in regard to joined-up government—the problem of ensuring that the Home Office, education services and social services jointly fund child mental health provision. Will the right hon. Lady consider that herself, and also, perhaps, speak to representatives of Young Minds, which provides some of the most pioneering and effective services?

Marjorie Mowlam

I know of the right hon. Lady's interest in the matter. Let me reassure her that child mental health will be one of our considerations when a system is established—either in the form of units, or in another form that will enable us to deal with the specific question of educational health in schools—for repeated truants, and kids who have been excluded from school. That system will be cross-departmental.

As the right hon. Lady will know from experience, such a system will be particularly hard to achieve, but we think that the cross-departmental work that we are currently doing is quite successful in establishing joined-up policy-making. We hope that, following some of our submissions to the spending review body, we may even secure joined-up money, which would encourage still better co-operation. We are doing all that we can to bring that about through our links with local partnerships, local authorities, the voluntary sector and health departments.

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