THE concentration on exam results, on whether grades are rising or falling and on which schools are topping the league tables can too often obscure a more disturbing education statistic: the inability of schools, education authorities or Ministers to make any lasting impression on truancy figures.
The depressing picture in this region, with more than 45,000 Yorkshire pupils on track to be persistent absentees this academic year, only reflects the national increase in children absent from school without permission.
For the harsh truth is that, regardless of improvements in academic success, Michael Gove cannot claim victory in his drive to raise school standards until he has tackled this pernicious problem. Indeed, as the Government emphasised yesterday, children who attend school regularly are four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are persistently absent.
The worrying scale of youth unemployment and the number of so-called NEETs (those not in employment, education or training) are testament to the failure of so many secondary schools to engage with pupils who consequently spend increasing amounts of time absent from class and end up not only without qualifactions but also without any concept of how to prepare themselves for the world of work.
The failure to cut truancy has not been for want of trying. Increasing numbers of parents have been fined for not sending their children to school and the latest talk is of identifying problem families and tailoring their receipt of benefits to their children’s attendance at school. Yet the impact of increasingly draconian sanctions has been minimal.
Rather than tackling parents, then, it might be far better to look at the schools themselves. For, when figures show that large numbers of children are leaving primary school with little grasp of literacy or numeracy, it is hardly surprising that such pupils then continue to struggle through their secondary school years and even less of a surprise when they become so disaffected that they stop bothering to turn up at school at all.
Mr Gove’s battle to raise the quality of teaching, therefore, is surely the right one. But until it has a noticeable effect on reducing truancy, the Education Secretary’s dream of schools once more becoming true agents of social mobility will remain just that, a fond hope.