“Truancy can be good for you,”read a recent headline in The
Guardian. 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
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.