Children’s rights campaigners attack truancy sweeps

Truancy sweeps are a waste of valuable resources that should be concentrated instead on tackling the problems facing the “hard core” of pupils who disengage from education altogether, children’s rights campaigners have argued.

A survey of 120 Local Education Authorities published this week by the charity Action on Rights for Children reveals that over 16,000 hours of police time are spent annually on truancy sweeps, and that for every three children stopped only one is truanting.

Director Terri Dowty said: “The majority of children are recorded as being out of school with permission for legitimate reasons such as medical appointments. It is unacceptable that those going about their lawful business should be subjected to police questioning. Adults would not tolerate this and it can only breed anxiety and resentment among law-abiding young people.”

Dowty said the “misleading figures” bandied around about the number of children stopped masked the fact that truancy sweep initiatives were having no effect on children who were missing out on education.

“The government does not need truancy sweeps to identify persistent truants because they already know about them, and we are failing those children by not concentrating all our resources on the problems that lead to their disengagement from education,” she said.

National co-ordinator of the Children’s Rights Alliance Carolyn Willow added: “Two out of three children stopped by the police are not truanting at all. We must stop treating children as wrong-doers and criminals and find more positive and humane ways of engaging them in education and elsewhere.”

However, the Department for Education and Skills defended its tactics, arguing that school attendance was at record levels and absences from secondary schools were continuing to fall.

“We make no apology for taking a tough line on pupil behaviour and attendance,” he said.

Since 2002, the DfES has prescribed two national truancy sweep initiatives per year for England, each lasting for about three weeks. The government has also placed over 11,500 parents on the “fast track to prosecution” scheme, under which they must improve their child’s school attendance within a term or face prosecution.

Association of Chief Police Officers lead on youth matters, deputy chief constable Charles Clark, added: “Work with our partners to deal with school absences is only one tool in a much bigger tool box, with schemes ranging from those to engage young people and their families to acceptable behaviour contracts, to antisocial behaviour orders, and many others. It is far too simplistic to focus on one issue when the needs of young people and their families are many and complex.”

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