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Why DO schoolchildren play truant?

Louisa Compton | 10:40 UK time, Thursday, 19 February 2009

A parent is sent to prison once every two weeks in school term in England and Wales because their child is skipping school. When that statistic emerged on our programme, one mother got in touch with us to say she's at her wits end because her daughter Laura is constantly avoiding school. Laura's mum is a qualified teacher and has five children. Her daughter's truanting has got so bad the family have now been visited by the local council's education welfare officers. We spoke to 14-year-old Laura and her best friend Beth, who's 15, and goes truanting with her. You can hear the interview here.















We'll put some of their points to a Government minister later in the programme.

Comments

  • 1. At 12:46pm on 19 Feb 2009, newBrannon wrote:

    As a teacher of many years I listened with interest to the two girls explaining why they truanted from their lessons. I'm sure that all teachers 'recognise' the attitudes and comments made. It is all too easy to be critical of these girls but it seems to me that they are in desperate need of some guidance and more than that, some inspiration. What they did say that resonated so strongly was that their school were more interested in GCSE results. Of course they refer to schools trying to achieve targets set by government that all teachers know are sometimes unreasonable. The fact that theses girls are picking up on this reality and that they feel more like a statistic than a learner is revealing of the main problem. Similarly, 10 year olds are coached to achieve Level 4 in KS2 Sats, once again to achieve government targets. It is easy to see why the joy of learning is being eroded by all the layers of pressure that government policy in 'education' causes.

    In my first post I asked my new form group about their opinions of school. One lad, just 11, said he hated it. I asked him why and he said 'for the first 4 years of our life we learn to walk and talk and then we go to school and are told to be quiet and sit down'.

    I believe that if the teaching profession were trusted to work with our people without the ridiculous levels of pressure imposed from above, we might stand a chance of making school and the experience of learning more relevant, enjoyable and ultimately to the benefit of all.

    There are lots of good schools, good teachers and amazing young people out there. But square pegs will never fit into round holes no matter how hard we bang them. Government thinking on educational policy is distinctly unenlightened and has been for years. This is the real problem. these young girls are victims of not only this but the related malaises of our present society.

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  • 2. At 2:19pm on 19 Feb 2009, jonnytelstra2003 wrote:

    The part of your broadcast which resonated most with me was the neglect shown to pupils who have both the skill and the will to learn. Their education is being ruined by selfish, ill disciplined kids who have no desire to learn and a teaching profession which panders to those who shout loudest rather than the one's who want to learn the most.

    Teachers have a responsibility to make lessons interesting for kids, irrespective of their thoughts on government targets - this is simply about being professional and the reason why we invest a large amount of our taxes into education. Any teacher who finds themselves unable to buffer the children from their personal thoughts on targets should quite simply do the honourable thing and resign.

    Teachers also have a responsibility to ensure that every child is stretched to reach their potential. Unfortuntely, with the way our schools are being run at the moment, good kids get the least amount of attention and these are the one's who will ultimately become dis-engaged with education and never reach their true potential.

    The first premise of any school needs to be discipline. Kids that cannot behave should not have the right to be in a classroom to spoil the education of others. Teachers that cannot discipline classes need to be re-trained/put on performance management, as do the parents of the badly behaved kids.

    It's about time we started to talk about the rights of the silent majority whose kids want to learn and whose parents pay the taxes to pay teachers and fund the benefits provided for the (more often than not) ill disciplined kids.

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  • 3. At 5:26pm on 19 Feb 2009, newBrannon wrote:

    In reply to jonnytelstra I understand his sentiments precisely. Yes it is true that the majority of our young students who get it right, can be somewhat neglected in favour of let's say, the 'disenchanted few'.

    This is something that is unacceptable but sometimes inevitable within the constraints that we work in. However, I work in a school that has a strong ethos to recognise and reward high levels of effort, attendance, punctuality, good citizenship and of course attainment. The student who called in to raise the issue the previous correspondent mentioned should raise this issue with her own school as it is manifestly wrong that she should feel neglected like this.


    For the record I have never had issues with discipline and behaviour in my classrooms and the department that I work in at my school regularly exceeds the targeted percentage of GCSE C to A* grades and always attain 100% pass rates at AS and A2 levels. So I'm not speaking from a position of weakness either in my own practice or the relative health of the school I work in. When I go back to work it will be all 'hands to the deck' with my GCSE students who are entering the period of their terminal examination.

    Most of what Jonnytelstra says is self evidently true but the fact that I want my students to achieve to their very highest potential does not prohibit me from commenting on how the obssession that we seem to have in this country in relation to government targets can and obviously has led these young girls to feel as they do.

    The point is this; I personally do not need 'targets' to encourage me to do my job well. I need no other incentive other than that which is inherant in my work and the subject I teach which happens to be my passion. I would argue that any teacher solely driven by the achievement of arbitrarily set targets should resign and do something else. As teachers, we have to put the students first and more importantly, they must see that in our actions on a day to day basis. I say to my students; enjoy your learning and take pride in your achievements, work hard and the grade will take care of itself.

    What Jonnytelstra fails to realise is that at the bottom of all the pressure from Whitehall down are sometimes the most vulnerable young people in our society. This needs to be addressed. They cannot cope with the 'one glove fits all' philosophy.

    Lastly, I also agree with Jonny that some teachers are failing our young people and in my other capacity at school I am constantly picking up the pieces of these failures. It is very frustrating at times but again, the first and most important thing that I can do is to listen to that student who has once again fallen foul of Mr A or Miss G and then raise it as an issue at a higher level in terms of the way that particular teacher is 'teaching'.

    We need to have a proper debate in this country about what counts as an 'educational experience'. From the age of 5 our schools have a captive audience full of very young people so eager to learn and please. We have to admit that we are failing too many of them and look at this as a systemic fault. The levels of truancy in this country are shocking and I think it is incumbent upon us, as a developed society, to seek some solutions.


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  • 4. At 10:18am on 20 Feb 2009, for-arguments-sake wrote:

    What a shame. Here we have two (presumably and apparently) reasonably intelligent young women who will miss out on many things in life.
    Now please don't expect me to demand retribution from them for wasting the opportunity that's been offered; and whatever you do, don't think I want them castigated and thrown out of the system - what good would that do?
    These two young people are acutally victims of an outdated, outmoded system that seeks to justify its existence by enforcing ever-more-draconian rules and standards - painting battleship grey conformity over the potential of blank young canvasses.
    When our current education system was formed, its most important task was to produce for the workplace a stream of reasonably literate and numerate workers. Learning by 'rote' was sufficient, and with a limited curriculum it was possible to control and teach young people who arived at class with an expectation (brought from home) that they should co-operate with the system. It was easy for them to see school as a way out of grinding poverty.
    These days, the world is different. The world of work no longer offers a job for life. GCSEs and Degrees are NO guarantee of a career, or even a job. They may be good things to aspire to because they might be a recognition that the holder has studied and remembered something - but they are not definitive measures of learning; less so are they any assessment of understanding. There are some technical or scientific areas where the balance is different, but essentially this is the case. So the whole premise of our education system is, to say the least, questionable.
    Now let's look at the young people whose lives are to be shaped by the system. They arrive at school many times more affluent and less threatened than their counterparts of a hundred years ago. They know more about life. They have had information thrown at them from all directions - from the internet, advertising, news (politics left, right and centre), TV, radio, cinema, text, email, blogs, chatrooms and so on. Such sources may well appear to be authoritative in isolation, yet are contradictory as a body. The next move, according to the experts, is to put them in a room, totally control their lives and tell them that the only truth is the one that school tells them.
    Not only that, but these divers and impressionable people are effectively given the same dogma, in the same way. This cannot be the best environment for learning, for all but a very few.
    To cope with this changing world of work, where people will stand or fall by what they can contribute (there will be no hiding places in vast corporations, nor comfy long-term contracts), young people will need to follow their interests, becoming as good as they can be so as to provide a service that will be wanted.
    The only way to achieve this is absolutely NOT regimentation and standardisation. NOR IS IT TEACHING!
    Young people are very good at learning about things that interest them. This innate ability MUST be facilitated.
    If you doubt this, I can report an experiment that took place in India. In a slum area, a computer terminal was made publicy accessible. Without any 'teaching', within weeks the local youngsters had worked out how to access the internet and research some complex data. The computer worked entirely in English - an obstacle that they overcame easily in order to take advantage of the 'gift'.
    To summarise a rant. Young people are all different and will respond to different stimuli. Young people are excellent at learning, needing stimulation and facility more than teaching. Change is essential, because the regimented, standardised, uber-self-satisfied educationalists are too busy trying to make the kids fit their erroneous pattern that they have lost sight of the reason for education.
    Ten years ago we were told that there was too little time spent in school on literacy and numeracy. This morning, we are told there is too much. If each child were given more freedom to explore his or her interests, literacy and numeracy would be an inevitable consequence - and they would learn them in half the time, and with pleasure rather than anger.

    Then they might go to school willingly.

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  • 5. At 12:42pm on 20 Feb 2009, Richard_SM wrote:


    Why DO schoolchildren play truant?

    Because the people who determine education policy and are the one's who had a propensity to the 10 subjects offered.



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  • 6. At 2:27pm on 20 Feb 2009, Faplock wrote:

    When I went to school, school hours began at 09.00 and finished at 16.00.
    If a class had a free lesson then the class had to stay in the classroom and study. Regardless of whether it was the last lesson of the day. Any school child seen out-and-about between 09.00 & 16.00 had some explaining to do.
    There are three schools in my area, all of which allow the children out of the grounds and into the surrounding area during the entire school day ~ presumably during free periods. Why?
    Not just one or two but hoards of children can be seen making their way home at any time from 14.30 onwards. To my simple mind, these children are all truanting.

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  • 7. At 3:09pm on 20 Feb 2009, jonnytelstra2003 wrote:

    I couldn't agree more with Faplock - school hours are too short and there are far too many holidays/training days.

    My 5 year olds school was shut for 3 days due to the recent snow. In that time, the caretaker had made no effort whatsover to clear the playground of snow resulting in it being icy when the children returned. During the same period, my back garden was clear as the snow had been rolled up to build several snowmen - the children loved it and it really didn't take that long to do. Why couldn't the caretaker and/or teachers be doing the same at the school......I'm sure that local parents would even have helped out.

    The point of this is it's important to set children strong examples on work ethic. The teaching profession is tarred with a brush that they will take time off whenever they can on top of their three months holiday a year. It is a working pattern which is clearly mis-aligned with government strategy of getting parents back to work and it also encourages children to take a casual attitude towards school.....if teachers take time off for the slightest of reasons, then why shouldn't the kids? This fundamentally breeds the wrong type of behaviours as we try to rear the next generation for the world of work.

    There are some great teachers out there who treat it as a true profession. I am afraid to say that there are others who treat it as an easy life. I'm not convinced that there are strong enough performance management systems in place to root out the poor performers to create an education system we can all be proud of.

    An idea on measurement to ensure each child is developed to their own potential would be to assess where the child is at the beginning and at the end of the year (vs the normal development expected for their peer group). Teachers would get 1 point for every child who performs to a higher standard than expected at the end of year, 0 points for one who stays the same level and -1 for every child who relatively goes backwards.

    Any teacher with a negative score at the end of the year is put on performance management and if they get a negative score in two consecutive years they are out.



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  • 8. At 03:49am on 26 Feb 2009, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    Louisa:
    Kids played the of truant because they are not encouraged to attend school....And, I think that their should be a punishment inflicted on all parties involved...
    ~Dennis Junior~

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