Why truancy is not good for anybody

“Truancy can be good for you,”read a recent headline in The
. Jenni Russell argued that truancy is excusable if it
permits family holidays; museum visits and, access to, “new and
exciting experiences”. For those who have, she omitted to

Russell’s piece was in response to the government’s absurd
announcement that taking a child out of school without permission
is liable to a fine of £100. The well off will simply add that
to the holiday budget along with the airport tax. In the same week,
in Essex, 13 parents were brought to a new, “fast-track” truancy
court. The result was a shambles with the hearings of all the cases

One parent, Tracy Hornsby, claimed that she had removed her
daughter Toni, aged 15, not for a quick tour of the Tate Modern but
because of bullying and drug-taking at her school. She had attended
20 out of 70 school days.

Russell believes that education is a preparation for life, and it
does not just happen in school. Maybe not for the middle classes.
However, one can reverse that proposition. School is a preparation
for life, and it isn’t just about education. It is also about
acquiring interpersonal skills – developing a sensitivity to social
cues and friendship.

All of which is expounded upon in Developing Minds, Challenge
and Continuity Across the Life Span
, the seminal book by
Michael and Marjorie Rutter. Fifty thousand children a day truant,
and there will be almost as many reasons why.

What the Rutters examine is “ineffective social processing as a
possible determinant of peer relationship difficulties”. The
unpopular child, entering a group, is more likely to disagree, to
assert their opinions, and to seek attention rather than blend in
with the group.

Of course, a bullied child doesn’t, “ask for it” but in certain
circumstances, a teenager, for instance, may need extra support to
learn how to deal with others. And that may not happen at

Truanting habitually concentrates on the child’s circumstances.
Often, however, a girl or boy is thriving but fails to attend
because of a parent’s needs, not their own. Sometimes, parents are
ill, sometimes needy. The child becomes sucked into a
claustrophobic world.

Russell argues that government has to think about how to make
schools a place where pupils want to be. What’s equally important,
perhaps, is devising innovative strategies to encourage dependent
adults to literally let their children go.

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