Headlines: November 26th, 2003

A report released today by from crime reduction charity Nacro, says thousands of children may be missing from the school system and it wants the Government to tackle truancy by providing a more flexible national curriculum, putting practical and vocational education on an equal footing with academic learning.The report, ‘Missing Out’, finds that children who have stronger practical skills can become disillusioned by a system that places too much emphasis on academic achievement – and that can lead to future offending.

The Nacro document says 41% of young people referred to Youth Offending Teams were truanting regularly prior to coming into contact with the youth justice system and it points to disaffection at school as a key indicator of future offending. Although it states that this is not necessarily a causal relationship, up to 60% of YOT referrals were identified as having special educational needs.

The researchers believe that as many as 100,000 children could be missing from the education system and says they are missing school for reasons as varied as low attainment and bullying. Some drop out of the system without trace for anything up to two years. The report calls for more focus on welfare-based intervention for these young people rather than harsh punishments aimed at their parents. The research also finds that children in care are more prone to ‘go missing’ as there is no legal obligation on councils to tell other authorities when they are sending a child into foster care in a new jurisdiction. Schools, say the authors, are reluctant to take on children who they perceive to be disruptive or less likely to achieve academically as this may affect their place in league tables.

Craig Harris, Director of Education and Employment at Nacro said, tackling the problems of attendance meant education provision had to be more relevant to the needs and abilities of all children, regardless of whether they were academically suited or gifted practically. When attendance problems did occur, agencies needed to be better at working together to make things right. He said, too, that the limits of a punitive approach to truancy had become all too apparent.

The report recommends that there should be adequate support for alternative curriculum providers from the DfES, earlier welfare-based intervention for children with learning and behavioural difficulties and a statutory requirement for schools to inform LEAs when a child is taken off-roll. It also calls for an overhaul of funding arrangements between schools and LEAs so that funding allocated to an individual pupil should not be retained by the school, but instead should ‘follow’ the child.

‘Missing Out’, produced today by Nacro, is available from Nacro publications, 169 Clapham Road, London SW9 0PU.