‘Tackle poverty to end region’s
truancy shame’

MORE needs to be done to address the root causes of truancy in deprived areas of Yorkshire say education campaigners, as new statistics show school attendance levels in Hull are the worst in the country.

The city’s primary and secondary schools recorded the highest rate of unauthorised absences in England in autumn and spring 2011/12.

Data released by the Department for Education (DfE) yesterday shows 1.9 per cent of half-days were missed without a valid reason over the two terms.

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In secondary schools, the figure rose to 3 per cent – again, the highest in the country.

The city also had among the highest levels of pupils classed as “persistent absentees” – those who skipped the equivalent of 19 days of school – with more than one in 10 high school pupils there regularly cutting classes.

A similar picture exists in Barnsley, where 10.2 per cent of secondary students repeatedly failed to attend lessons. Overall, 6.7 per cent of pupils at the town’s primary and secondary schools were classed as persistently absent.

Sheffield, Wakefield, Rotherham and Bradford had the next-highest levels of persistent absence in Yorkshire. Levels of truancy were also among the region’s highest in Bradford, Barnsley and Rotherham.

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Ian Stevenson, regional secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said he believed the figures reflected “some of the worst pockets of socio-economic deprivation”.

Poverty and unemployment need to be tackled first for educational standards to improve, he added.

“Whilst it’s quite right that we aim to make sure no child is disadvantaged by their background, it’s absolutely important that we’re able to get those children into school, so therefore as well as focusing on educational standards we also need to look at how our Government policies are affecting these groups that are suffering some of the worst socio-economic deprivation,” he said.

“We’ve got to tackle poverty and social deprivation, not just what’s happening in schools.

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“If the Government continues to worsen the position of some of the worst-off in our society I think that’s likely to have a further impact on how we are able to raise educational standards.”

Children from workless families in areas of high unemployment may have little hope for their own job prospects and become disillusioned with education, he said, trapping them in a “circle of poverty”.

“It’s very difficult for those kids sometimes to break out of that circle,” he said.

“Their parents don’t have jobs so they don’t see how education will help them to get jobs.”

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Unemployed parents may also struggle to send their children to school for financial reasons or due to difficult circumstances at home, he added.

“Sometimes it’s about whether or not they can afford uniforms or shoes, sometimes if parents are in difficult circumstances, children end up being carers,” he said.

“Sometimes, for whatever reason, you get families functioning not as well because they are on such low incomes and they’re in poor housing with poor transport links to school.

“If your kid misses the school bus, if you’ve got a car you take them into school. If your kid misses the bus and you don’t have any money the kid goes home.”

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Children’s charity Barnardo’s also highlighted the link between deprivation and truancy following the release of the statistics and warned that the current school system was “failing” the poor.

Nationally, the rate of overall absence for pupils eligible for free school meals – a key measure of poverty – was 7.3 per cent compared with only 4.5 per cent of their classmates who were not eligible.

And 10.6 per cent of eligible pupils were considered “persistent absentees” while only 3.7 per cent of those not eligible were classed as such.

Barnardo’s director of strategy Janet Grauberg said: “The current school system is failing the poorest, most of whose absences are authorised, suggesting they are more likely to be ill or have caring responsibilities at home, for example.

“They can’t be written off as playing truant.”

“Schools need to do more to find the root causes for such a stark imbalance between the numbers of poor children missing valuable lesson time and their classmates.”

Comment: Page 12.