Keep them in

They believe in starting young In the Royal Borough of Kingston,
they believe in starting young. Truancy levels in the borough are
not high, but by tackling potential difficulties at primary level
or even in the early years, professionals hope to reduce the risk
of exclusion and non-attendance later on. Involving parents at all
stages is seen as crucial.

“Our aim is to support parents’ relationship with school and
make them feel that school has something to offer them. We want
parents to feel comfortable making their views known,” said parent
partnership officer Nikki Anghileri. “Truancy can be related to
things such as bullying, friendship problems, transition, or
disaffection with school. Parents can also sanction non-attendance
and collude with the child. We aim to make parents and children
feel that school is a good and non threatening place, where
difficulties can be resolved.” 

A multi-agency team has pioneered a series of parent workshops
in Kingston schools, where parents can discuss their anxieties
openly with professionals and try to work out solutions. The
workshops aim to cover special educational needs and anything that
could lead to difficulties with learning or behaviour.  

Pioneered in one primary school and now running in another two,
they last for six sessions and include 8-15 parents in each group,
with a crche provided by social services. Nikki Anghileri, an
educational psychologist, an education welfare officer, a social
services representative and teachers are all involved, with one
professional as a point of contact in each school. More workshops
are also planned in another 10 schools over the next year and a

Schools differ in the way they recruit parents, but try to
target those whose children are having difficulties or who are at
risk of developing behaviour or attendance problems later on.
Topics are partly decided by parents, and have so far included
challenging behaviour, sibling rivalry, children’s isolation,
bullying, and friendship problems.

“It’s clear that parents can sometimes be much more concerned
about their children’s social problems at school, rather than how
they are doing in maths or reading,” said Nikki. “If a child comes
home and says they had no one to talk to in the playground today,
parents will be worried. Children often remember those aspects of
school the most.”

Anghileri emphasises that it’s not a top-down approach. “Parents
have a say in their children’s education,” she said. “We don’t
lecture them about what they should be doing or what they are doing
wrong. We all come up with ideas together and try to work out ways
of dealing with issues. Parents have plans to go away with at the
end of each session, such as to use books for helping raise
children’s self esteem. They are also given contact numbers for the
Parent Partnership Service and a school contact and are told they
can call at any time.” 

Anghileri says feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with
parents rating things like relevance and helpfulness very high, and
all saying they would attend again. 

Many parents welcome the rare opportunity to talk, said Diana
Percival, Kingston’s education welfare team manager, who also takes
part in the workshops. “Parents often feel isolated and anxious.
The workshops help them to realise that it’s not just happening to
them, that support is available, and that they can share their
concerns with other parents.

“As professionals we have also all learned a great deal. We have
developed much more appreciation of each others’ services and our
different approaches. We have also been able to see things from the
parents’ perspective and have gained an understanding of some of
the difficulties and frustrations they face.”

Truancy factfile

  • Parents are legally required to ensure that their children
    receive a suitable education at school or elsewhere.
  • Schools have to take attendance registers twice a day.
    Authorised absence is absence with permission from the school, such
    as illness or special leave. Unauthorised absence is without
    permission, such as truancy, unexplained or unjustified
  • Research has shown a strong link between attendance and
    attainment for individual pupils, and between truancy and street
    crime/antisocial behaviour.
  • On average, around 450,000 children are absent from school
    every day.In the last year, total absences and authorised absences
    in all schools in England have decreased, but unauthorised absences
    have increased slightly.Authorised absences, for things like
    holidays and dental appointments during school time, account for
    nine out of ten school days missed.
  • Government figures suggest that a hard core of secondary school
    pupils (2%) is responsible for almost half of the unauthorised
    absence from schools across the country.
  • Government targets aim to reduce school absence by 8% between
    2003 and 2008.
  • The drive to improve school attendance has included tougher
    targets for LEAs, more regular collection of data, support for LEAs
    with the biggest problems, bi-annual truancy sweeps, behaviour
    improvement programmes in some schools, and a fast track to
    prosecution scheme, which sets a time limit for improved
  • In extreme cases, truancy can result in parents’ prosecution,
    and even a jail sentence. The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 has
    also allowed tougher sanctions against parents. Voluntary Parenting
    Contracts provide support such as counselling or parenting classes
    for parents who face problems with their child’s school attendance
    or behaviour. Parenting orders, with hefty fines, are issued
    through a magistrates court for parents unwilling to improve their
    child’s behaviour. Penalty notices of up to £100 are available
    as an alternative to prosecution for parents who do not take
    responsibility for securing their child’s regular attendance at
  • Government targets aim to reduce school absence by 8% between
    2003 and 2008.

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