HL Deb 25 November 1993 vol 550 cc348-50

3.25 p.m.

Baroness White asked Her Majesty's Government:

What considerations precluded the Welsh Office publishing the results of the recent truancy tables compiled in Welsh schools.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the Secretary of State for Wales fully supports the policy of publishing school attendance information; however, there would have been difficulties in publishing the data for Wales last week. But this vital information on school attendance will be published by the Welsh Office next year.

Baroness White

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that Answer. I presume that "next year" means a fresh round of tables. The Secretary of State for Wales, as a panel member last Friday evening on the well-known BBC programme "Any Questions", spoke at considerable length and quite properly about the importance of the truancy evaluations in schools. However, can the noble Viscount tells us why his right honourable friend failed to make any reference to the particular situation in Wales for which he is responsible?

Will the noble Viscount convey to his right honourable friend Mr. Redwood the acute dissatisfaction felt in well-run Welsh secondary schools because, after having spent valuable time this year preparing tables, the Welsh Office now says that it cannot use them? That work was based on requirements that were not fully thought out—a characteristic of this Government in so many spheres—and, according to my inquiries among senior officers in Welsh local education authorities, was done without consulting them or even informing them. However (I suppose to show that there was no ill feeling) some packets of envelopes were sent to local education authorities to enable them to return the tables to the Welsh Office.

Noble Lords


Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I am not quite sure whether I was listening to a question or a speech. The problem in Wales with the gathering of the information has been that schools adopt different registration systems and procedures to record absences. The format and extent of information recorded by schools in Wales were not consistent and could not easily be collated and validated in a standard format for publication. However, the Welsh Office is looking to give guidance to schools on the issue.

Baroness White

My Lords, but whose fault was it that they were not done on the same basis? Why did the Welsh Office not think the matter through before it asked schools to carry out the work?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, all schools are required by the Education (Pupils Attendance Records) Regulations of 1991 to record both authorised and unauthorised absences for all pupils. Schools are required to include the information in their school prospectuses and in the governor's annual report. Welsh Office guidance is contained in Welsh Office Circular 45/91. However, there was a great deal of flexibility allowed within those guidelines and, in the event, that proved to invalidate the figures that were provided.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, in his initial reply, the noble Viscount said that the figures had not been published at present because of difficulties. However, he has not explained precisely what those difficulties were which prevented the figures from being published. Can he say at what time next year they will be published? For example, will it be at the beginning or at the end of the year?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I am unable to answer the second part of the noble Lord's question, but I shall gather the information and write to him in due course.

The department publishes annual details of pupils present in schools derived from a census on a particular day in the autumn and spring terms. For the school year 1991–92, 91 per cent. of pupils were marked as present in the autumn term and 93 per cent. in the spring term. Next year the Welsh Office will be able to provide that information in a more informative way. Next year the information will give a picture across the whole school year instead of a snapshot of a single day.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how many representations the Welsh Office has received from headmasters and headmistresses of schools about the definition of truancy or unauthorised absence with which they have been required to work? Have those representations been discussed with the Welsh Joint Education Committee?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I am unable to answer either part of the noble Lord's question today, but I shall write to him in due course.

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