Headlines: December 7th, 2005

Local authority leaders in Scotland have expressed concern over truancy figures that they believe are unacceptably high and for which, they say, there is no quick fix solution. Instead COSLA – the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities – has underlined the need for an integrated approach involving a number of agencies.COSLA’s Education Spokesperson Ewan Aitken said the latest figures made sad reading even though a small minority of pupils were responsible for the majority of truancy. “Reasons for staying away from school are wide-ranging and complex. They can involve peer pressure and bullying, disaffection, caring responsibilities at home, and abuse and neglect, all of which need individual responses,” he said.

The figures show an overall attendance rate for 2004 of 93 per cent, fractionally down from the previous year. Just ten per cent of pupils were responsible for 90 per cent of truanting and two per cent were responsible for half the unauthorised absences. More worryingly, 139,000 pupils, nearly one in five of Scottish children, took holidays during term time.

Councillor Aitken said that absence levels were higher at schools in deprived areas. The complexities of the situation, he said, meant there was no single solution to deal with the problem and that was why many schools were working with local authorities and the Scottish Executive to review their attendance policies and the measures they had in place to prevent, manage and address truancy.

He said practical measures like automated truancy alert systems were currently being piloted across several local authorities. Schools were using voice calls and text messages to contact parents and carers of all pupils absent each day to confirm that they are aware of the absence and this was already showing very positive results. But he added, “While practical measures like these can help to highlight and prevent occasional truancy, persistent truants require individual, integrated responses from a range of agencies working together with schools, pupils and parents to identify and address underlying problems and to develop constructive solutions.”

He went on to say that this meant that Integrated Children’s Services had a crucial role to play in bringing together a range of professionals into a single team to provide tailored, comprehensive services for children and young people and their families.