HL Deb 08 March 1983 vol 440 cc86-8

3.2 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government which local education authorities had the worst records as far as truancy is concerned in the last period for which figures are available.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, the Department of Education and Science has no recent information regarding levels of truancy. The primary responsibility for monitoring school attendance and for tackling problems of truancy lies with individual local education authorities.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that in the parents' magazine Where? it is reported that just under 5,000 children are in care because they have been truanting and that many of them are in community homes where the available standard of education is said to be not very high? Would my noble friend agree with me that if children are not in school it is very likely that they will become juvenile delinquents?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I really cannot comment on the figures in the magazine, Where? and nor would I comment on what type of education is being provided in community homes, but presumably if children are in community homes they are at least being educated. The link between truancy and juvenile delinquency is a very complex and difficult one. It is primarily a local matter, and there are no national figures. However, I understand that in one urban area, Leeds, where there is a most interesting project taking place with the juvenile courts, the records of some 450 youngsters appearing before the juvenile courts as young offenders indicate that about three out of four had attendances of at least 70 per cent. and about one in 10 had attendances of at least 90 per cent. I should like to add that in this case the figures did not distinguish between those absences which were justified and those which were not. I know that those are figures for Leeds only, and I do not know whether they are repeated throughout the country. However, they go to show that this is a very complex problem and that there is not naturally any type of link between truancy and juvenile delinquency.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether the education system itself is at fault regarding truancy? When I say "at fault", I am referring to the problem of non-academic pupils perhaps attending education establishments which are geared completely to academic students. The figures I have from one local authority in the country prove quite conclusively that its truancy figures are some of the lowest in the whole of the area, and that is an area of high unemployment and one that is geared to perhaps a much more vocational type of training for the non-academic pupil.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for drawing that matter to your Lordships' attention. There is little general agreement as to any overriding reason for truancy. Research evidence suggests that such factors as social background, disillusionment with the school curriculum, temperamental qualities and lack of interest and support by parents all contribute. A particular cause of concern is the fact that a significant number of parents seem to condone unjustified absence. The point which the noble Baroness has made about the vocational education of children is something that the Government are pursuing very much at the moment.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that it is a comforting thought that the figure of 5,000 which the noble Baroness quoted represents one-sixteenth of 1 per cent.?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, for producing a figure like that from thin air. Again, I would not know whether he was right, but it sounds jolly good.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that perhaps the figures for truancy among teachers are just as revealing about the conditions in the schools concerned as are the figures for truancy among pupils?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am afraid I have no figures for absences—I prefer that word to "truancies"—of teachers.

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