Patricia Amos, the first woman in Britain to be jailed for
allowing her child to play truant from school, recently received a
second jail sentence for failing to ensure a second child attended
school. This controversial “deterrent” has abjectly failed in this
In May 1998, the government pledged to cut truancy by a third by
September 2002, and by a further 10 per cent by 2004. But despite
several high-profile prosecutions of parents for failing to ensure
their children attended school, the rate of unauthorised absence
has fallen only marginally according to official figures.
I have only ever bunked off three times. The first was to
protest against the Iraq War in April last year. More recently
I’ve skipped the same lesson twice – the last of the day –
and wasn’t found out. This is a problem for those studying
truancy statistics and attempting to make political judgements
based upon them.
The true number of truants is impossible to know. If I am in
school between 8.15am and 8.30am and then again from 1.40pm until
2pm my school will duly record that I have attended a full school
day and schools have little incentive to change this arrangement.
No head teacher wishes to see their school top the local table on
truancy levels simply because it is more meticulous about detecting
However, the main issue here is not the detection of truancy or
the 28-day jail sentence given to parents judged to have failed
their child. Clearly many children feel that school is not worth
attending. One friend of mine has been waiting to enter his
dad’s building firm almost since he started secondary school
and only the rugby team is now of interest to him. Truancy figures
rise for secondary age children year on year up to age 16.
This clearly shows a disillusionment with education felt by an
increasing number of pupils as they get older. For many teenagers
school ceases to seem relevant to their present lives or their
future. This feeling is particularly common among those with lower
academic ability but it’s a problem for all young people
expected to sit through lessons which they experience as
unstimulating and unlikely to teach them useful skills.
The solution to truancy may lie in the national curriculum and
an increase in its versatility. More vocational qualifications
would go some way to renewing interest on the part of many kids.
Subjects that students have chosen themselves and those that offer
practical qualifications keep school important and useful to their
lives. Many teenagers are put off school because they know they
can’t achieve the current target of five GCSE A to C
To keep truancy levels down, children need to be able to see a
purpose for their education and greater choice or vocational
learning will be the most credible way to achieve this. I will
personally continue to bunk off if I feel that my time is better
spent outside of my school than in it.
Chris Taylor is a school student.