31 Aug 2007

David Cameron’s call, “men [must] realise that having children is an 18-year commitment - not a one-night stand”.

He went on to say [The Tory leader's speech at Sudellside community centre in Darwen, Lancashire, on youth crime and measures to reduce it - Wednesday August 22, 2007 - Guardian Unlimited]:

“We need to make mothers realise that it's work, not welfare, that offers their family the best future. We need to help couples stay together, not drive them apart with the tax and benefits system. And we need to make society as a whole - that's you and me - realise that we all have duties to our neighbours. These are duties as compelling as the taxes we pay and the laws we obey. They represent a social responsibility. For me the most exciting development that is happening in Britain today is the growth of social enterprises and other voluntary bodies dedicated to social justice.”

And Peter Fahy, chief constable of Cheshire’s comment, “public was right to think that antisocial behaviour was out of control” in The Guardian (Monday August 20, 2007) follows an article the previous week. He argues, “the system [is] failing to tackle the underlying causes of crime ……. [including] family breakdown”.

In an article [16th August 2007] in The Telegraph, ‘Alcohol ban is no answer; proper policing isDavid Green, Director of Civitas, writes: “children are more likely to stay away from crime if both biological parents are committed to their well-being”.

“…. there is no getting away from the fact that children are more likely to stay away from crime and to lead fuller lives if both their biological parents are committed to their well-being during the two decades it takes to grow up. Solving that problem is beyond most of us.”

Now David Cameron has also weighed in with, “More Government support for families and better male role models are the best ways to combat the yobs who are causing “anarchy in the UK” [Telegraph 21st August 2007].

The problem can be solved with determination, the application of the available statutory powers (Fixed Penalty Notices), modern technology (texts to mobile phones, e-mail, Digital TV), and engagement by schools with parents in the social, emotional and behavioural development of the pupils.

One solution available within the UK, brings parents, children and schools together. By using talk2me (www.talk2me.org.uk) schools and families can monitor social, emotional and behavioural development over time by taking the online inventory each year. What is required is the will to bring together the complementary strands of intervention and to treat the issue of family breakdown holistically.

Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Cheshire writes
, “a fundamental rebalancing [is] needed for the criminal justice system - away from simply concentrating on punishment towards more rehabilitation and offers of help, backed up by sanctions for those who [refuse] to change their behaviour.”

There is a strong correlation between truancy and future criminality. Local authorities [especially those under Conservative control!] and local crime reduction partnerships could be tackling this problem now with the same zeal that is being directed against the owners of illegally parked vehicles - with FNPs (Fixed Penalty Notices) and clamping.

However, if the main focus is punitive, it won’t work. Follow-up supportive measures are crucial too:

1. An individual re-integration plan for each child picked up during a truancy sweep combined with FNPs (£50 if paid in 28 days, £100 in 42 days) would change the culture of truanting, in some areas, to one of regular school attendance.

2. A whole school approach to measuring change in social, emotional and behavioural development, together with a programme engaging parents in this process – possibly as part of the extended schools programme - would change the culture prevalent, in some areas, from antisocial to social behaviour for all pupils and parents. Targeting a few parents will alienate them. A universal programme will not.

There are now 50,000 truants each school day in the UK and one million pupils who have been truants during the year. There are 16,000 PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers) and strong teams of EWOs (Education Welfare Officers) and other staff in schools and local authorities tasked with combating truancy and antisocial behaviour.

There are schemes such as Truancy Call and Teachers2Parents for engaging with parents. These allow school staff to make first day contact with parents of absentees via automated phone call, text message and email, parents can then respond in the same way.

Examination of data from 2004 shows a strong correlation between average absence levels in schools and their pupils’ attainment. For example:

88% of pupils gain 5 or more good GCSE grades at schools with average absence of 8 days or fewer per pupil. But only 26% at schools with average absence of more than 20 days per pupil; and

86% of pupils reach Key Stage 2 Level 4 Maths in schools where pupils average fewer than 8 days absence a year but this drops to 57% in schools where average absence is more than 15 days.

The 2004 Youth Crime Survey showed that 45% of young people in mainstream education who have committed an offence say they have played truant from school, compared with just 18% who have not committed an offence. It also showed that 62% of 10-16 year olds who have committed criminal or anti-social behaviour have also truanted.

Section 115 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 ensures that education authorities have a legal power to disclose information – such as the names of persistent truants - to the police officer/police community support officer for the purpose of a truancy sweep. The requirements of the Data Protection legislation need to be taken into account in exercising this power, and certain other requirements. The best way to ensure these requirements are satisfied is by using carefully drawn up protocols between the education authority and the police.

Where appropriate, EWOs, Connexions Personal Advisors, learning mentors and school pastoral staff should aim to work together to create an individual re-integration plan for each child picked up during a truancy sweep. Police officers/police community support officers have the power to return truants to their school or to a local authority designated place.

Schools using schemes like
www.teachers2parents.co.uk can provide much of the intelligence that is needed to make daily or frequent sweeps effective, for example, details of:

- regular non-attenders who are absent;
- pupils who are legitimately out of school; and
- dates of training days and other school closures.

Suresh Patel says, “Schools across the country using
www.teachers2parents.co.uk have seen a huge reduction in truancy.”

Seamus Ryan, principal of
Dunshaughlin Community College, a mixed school with 930 pupils has commented: “By installing Truancy Call we can manage absences more effectively and encourage parents to notify us about the whereabouts of their child. One of the real benefits of Truancy Call is that it alerts parents immediately, should their child be absent for any reason.”

Mr Ryan continued, “It gives parents the opportunity to inform the school directly of the reason for the absence and the likely duration, reducing the workload for teaching in collecting and recording absence notes.”

Using Truancy Call, the school carries out registration as normal each morning. Once finished, the system automatically calls, texts or emails parents until a response is received. Once a response is received and a voice message recorded no further calls are made, until the start of the next absence.

Using talk2me throughout the school as a regular online survey can enable the relevant staff and all parents to measure changes in social, emotional and behavioural development by pupil, class, and year group, under the headings of the ECM (Every Child Matters) agenda. If parents participate – and in future this should be possible with mobile phones or digital TV - facilitators or mentors can engage with individual pupils and families to enable them to discuss issues important to them, and to evaluate their progress during their time at school.

There is no single programme or intervention that will solve the problem of truancy. But several of these together will have a very significant impact on it. The knock on effects in terms of improved behaviour and better exam results can be considerable.

There's certainly been a dramatic improvement in exam results over a very short period (at Ladymead Community School in Taunton). Ladymead's head, Mark Trusson, ……. says: "Use of ICT and our school management systems combined (including Truancy Call) has been a powerful system for improving school performance, linked to teaching and learning. Our results (children gaining five As to Cs at GCSE) have improved from 54% in 2005 to 64% in 2006."

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