If you go out shopping during school hours between November and December with your school-aged child, don’t be surprised if you’re stopped by someone demanding to know why your child is off school.
This is called a ‘truancy sweep' and is conducted nationally twice a year by multi-disciplinary teams made up from the police, welfare and social services. The teams trawl supermarkets, shopping malls and high streets in search of children absent from school without permission, and with 85 per cent of local authorities taking part, there’s bound to be a sweep near you.
Truancy – a growing problem
Figures released at the beginning of autumn 2007 showed that the overall rate of unauthorised absences stood at record level. Notably, education authorities say that parentally condoned absence is a bigger problem than ‘regular truancy’.
During the truancy sweep in March 2007, more than 10,000 children were stopped over a three-week period. Of those, 5,000 did not have a valid reason for not being in school - 20 percent of these were from primary school, and 35 percent of these truants were with an adult.
Generally, the sweeps act as a deterrent and schools see improvements in attendance during and immediately after. They also help highlight other problems pupils may be experiencing, such as bullying, being a young carer, and examples of pupils who have been excluded or moved from another area but are not registered with any authority.
For some parents, truancy sweeps highlight the seriousness of non-attendance and parental responsibility, and schools see a rise in absent notes and the number of ‘first day' contact by parents.
However, other parents feel humiliated and mistrustful at being stopped in the street. Sweeps have had little effect on those who fall into this category and who do not see unauthorised absences as a problem. The same is true for parents who are unable to influence their child's behaviour.
How poor attendance can affect your child
- Children who fail to attend school regularly will find it difficult to keep up with school work and so may fall behind, leading to feelings of failure
- Children - especially primary-aged children - miss out on the social side of school life, which can affect their ability to make and keep friends
- Children who are not in school are most vulnerable and are easily drawn into crime. Research shows that children who play truant are more likely to offend than those that do not
- Research also shows that less than 40 percent of pupils in secondary schools with an average of 15 days or more absence get five good GCSEs
- Poor attendance patterns can also make life difficult later when a child is ready to look for a job.
How poor attendance can affect you
Parents have a legal responsibility to ensure their children are properly educated, so if your child misses school regularly - even if they miss school without you knowing - the Local Authority could take legal action against you.
At best, this may result in a visit or letter from an education welfare officer. At worse, if attendance does not improve, it could lead to parents being fined up to £2,500 or even imprisoned.