HL Deb 02 December 1986 vol 482 cc699-701
Lord Taylor of Blackburn

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there has been an increase in truancy in our schools and what steps they are taking to combat this problem.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government do not collect statistics on truancy at a national level. Nevertheless, we are aware that unjustified absence is a serious problem in some schools. In February, the department issued a circular to local education authorities which made a number of recommendations about the work of education welfare officers with a view to concentrating their efforts on school attendance problems. Progress on this will be monitored early next year.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and appreciate the work that the Government are doing in this direction. May I ask the noble Baroness to consider the figures in Lancashire, which have gone from 7 per cent. to 10 per cent., and at the same time to read the chief constable's report on delinquency and crimes among the juvenile population, which have increased also by 3 per cent.? Does she agree that there may be a link between the chief constable's figures and the percentage increase shown in the figures produced by the education department, and that truancy may lead perhaps to glue-sniffing, shop-lifting and drug taking?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, in response to the noble Lord, I agree that there may be a link between truancy and juvenile crime, but connections are not firmly established in spite of the statistics that he quoted. Juvenile delinquents often have a history of poor attendance at school. But whatever the interaction, the Government are committed to urgent and effective action to tackle the problem of drug and solvent abuse. A booklet giving information and advice to teachers and other education service professionals was issued last year. The appointment of a co-ordinator is being funded in each education authority area to combat drug misuse, and in-service teacher training related to drug abuse is being supported by the new scheme of INSET grants. We hope that this, together with an attack on the attendance problem, will help.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is in current circulation in certain schools a school stoppers textbook: 91 ways to smash and sabotage your school; that one of the ways advocated is truancy; and that this publication is sponsored by the Lesbian and Gay Youth Magazine, Issue 69? What do the Government propose to do about that?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, on hearing my noble friend's question, my immediate reaction was that absence from school must help guard against smashing the school! Nevertheless, I take on board the example that he has quoted and I assure him that we shall look into the matter.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether she has considered paying an attendance allowance to the pupils?

Baroness Hooper

No, my Lords.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether she agrees that truancy more often than not is a problem connected with the home as well as with schools? In those circumstances should not the latest circular have been issued jointly by the Departments of Education and of Health and Social Security, since both are involved in this?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I believe that parents have an important role to play in this. Where they show an interest in their children's education and show that they regard education as important, truancy is less likely to occur. The Government in all the steps that they are taking are very keen on introducing and cementing parent power in this as well as in other areas of education.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the Ministers say whether parents are entitled to receive from the local education authority details of truancy rates at the various schools in their area, where these have been collected, or whether the local authority is entitled to say that parents will not be given these statistics because they are confidential?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am not aware that there is any entitlement for parents to receive these figures, but I understand that in many local authority areas they are made available to them.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that this is the sort of statistic that parents would wish to have when choosing a school for their children and that figures should be available before they choose a school?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords, I agree.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, can my noble friend explain why children should be blamed for playing truant when teachers play truant with impunity, only they call it "industrial action"?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, perhaps I may half answer that supplementary question. I agree that teaching needs to be lively and absorbing and that the curriculum has to be seen by pupils and parents to be relevant to encourage pupils to attend.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she will look behind her to see how many of her supporters are playing truant today?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the answer must be, not many.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say what is the role of the school attendance officers these days—those who in my day were known as "kid-chasers"?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the education welfare officer has an important role here. The officer's most important duty, in the Government's view, is to investigate and remedy school attendance problems. Indeed, the circular to which I referred in my original Answer recommends that education welfare officers devote the major part of their time towards this end.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether things are any worse in schools in the London area? Can we really blame the children when we see what some London schools are trying to stuff into their unfortunate minds?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, although we do not collect statistics on a national level, we receive some local surveys, including an ILEA survey. The survey of secondary school pupils absent on one day in 1985 produced a figure of nearly 19,000 absentees. That is 15.6 per cent. of the pupil population, and it is rather an alarming figure.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, is not the alienation of some children a by-product of the Government's failure to provide enough resources in schools to create a contented teaching staff to take care of the situation?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we have been over this ground before. It is, I believe, of the utmost importance that teachers fulfil their proper role in making school and education attractive and interesting to pupils.

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