Truancy

Absenteeism is a common problem encountered by teachers and others who work in the field of education.

There are many reasons why some children fall into a pattern of repeated absence from school. In a number of cases, willful absence can be traced to an alienation from schooling due to poor achievement, family circumstances or behavioral causes. In some cases, parents or children simply defy the requirement to participate. This area is one in which the need for partnership between school and family is greatest. While many schools provide successful alternative programs or absenteeism intervention strategies, there will be cases where, despite the best efforts of schools and parents, the children stay away.

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It is clear that any unauthorized absence is of concern because of the valuable educational time which is lost and because the absence of some children is associated with inappropriate behavior in the community. Different types of absenteeism will be discussed during this essay but the main focus will be directed at truancy in which the causes and remedies will be evaluated. The different types of absenteeism is truancy, exclusion, school closure, school phobia or other absences due to illness or bad behavior (teachers sending pupils out of class due to poor behavior).

Although children who are sent outside the class are not entirely absent from the school, this can be identified as absence as they are not participating in class. It seems that none of the various Education Acts defines truancy and nor is this lack supplied the case laws. Nor indeed have the various researchers agreed a definition. Must every child who is absent from school for whatever be classified as a truant? This is the opinion of Reynolds and Murgatroyed (1977 – cited in Galloway, 1985). The definition of truancy can be narrowed down by suggesting that a child who plays truant is absent from school without leave, so excluding those children who are certified or accepted as too ill to attend. This still includes those children who are absent with leave given by their parents or who are actually kept at home by their parents (Galloway (1982)).

The definition of truancy can also be narrowed by Tyerman (1968), who reserves the term for children who are absent from school purely on their own initiative (Tyerman This is the definition adopted by Galloway (1985). However, Hersov (1977) goes still further dividing from truants, “school phobics” and school refusers, many of whom depending on how they are in turn defined will be absent on their own initiative. Since the term has been given different meanings by different writers, the literature cannot be regarded as dealing with an homogeneous subject. Conclusions reached in one study of truants cannot automatically be regarded as supported or disputed by conclusions reached in another.

It is clear that care must first be taken to ensure that the same or at least a similar definition has been given to truancy. There is a large body of literature, going back at least into the last century seeking to explain truancy in terms of failings among children and their families (eg Kline, 1989; Healy, 1915). In the 1920’s, Burt (Tyerman, 1968) elaborated the first concept of “school phobia” by describing how some children stayed away from schools that had been used by them and their parents as air raid shelters during the great war. They associated school with fear of death and became “neurotic” when compelled to go there. During the 1930’s, there were the psychoanalytic theories of Broadwin (Tyerman, 1968), relating truancy to various complexes. These earlier theories were not long accepted, if at all.

Broadwin can be criticised for having reasoned from premises that were by no means certain to conclusions that he made little attempt to verify by empirical research. Burt’s earliest concept of school phobia could not have lasted beyond the middle 1920’s, and may have been an attempt less to explain truancy than to attract larger government funding for it’s treatments through the use of fashionable semi – medical terms. Even so, the tradition was set. Since then, many researchers have devoted themselves to discovering what is wrong with the personalities or backgrounds or both of those children who play truant.

It is clear that school phobia was observed as being very different from truancy. It was accepted that the family background of a truant is believed to be equally unfortunate. They are said to come predominantly from poor families, where the father, if actually present and working has a job with low earnings and low status and low security (Tyerman, 1968, Farrington, 1980 ; Reid, 1986). They live usually in the inner cities, in bad and overcrowded properties (Tyerman, 1968; Galloway, 1980). There is a tendency for truancy their parents not to care about functuality or attendance or homework.

Other factors that can lead to truancy is based on unfavorable external circumstances where the educational pressures have been too high for a dull child or where the child’s own expectations are too high and they feel that they are not learning anything at school (Reid, 1986). Whether as by the teachers interviewed by Farrington (1980) we regard truants in a moralistic light, or as the pitiable victims of circumstances, the conclusions reached by this line of research are straight forward. If children play truant, it is because they are for various reasons unable to cope with school. Truancy is their problem, and any attempt to stop them from playing truant must be concerned with readjusting them. However, this whole line research has been challenged. Carroll et al (1977), looking at schools in South Wales, doubt if children or their backgrounds can be the sole or even the principle cause of truancy. Reynolds and Murgatroyed (1977) are careful to show that the schools served a relatively homogeneous community with very small differences in the social class composition of the people who live in the catchment areas of the different schools. Yet the study finds that patterns of deviancy and attendance vary greatly between different schools within this homogeneous catchment area.

The suggestion is that the schools themselves play at least some parts in causing these variable rates. Rutter (1979), investigating 12 Inner London schools reach much the same conclusion. This research has been questioned. Galloway (1985) draws attention to the small numbers of pupils examined in the Carroll study ranging between 17 and 60. His main objection though is that there may have been a significant heterogeneity in the social backgrounds of the children despite the care taken to show their homogeneity. He concedes that there may be some truth in the results but stresses what he believes are the methodological difficulties in demonstrating the differences between schools are due to factors within the schools and not to factors in their catchment areas.

“Another reason, though why such research is often questioned indeed why it forms so small a part of the total of the research into truancy is that it disturbs many of the researchers most basic assumptions. It has been suggested that irrespective of how good the evidence may be, the choice of where mainly to seek evidence has been prompted by considerations other than pure academic curiosity. There is the persistent belief that schooling is good. Reynolds et. Al (1980) suggested how hard it is, on ideological grounds for many educational researchers to accept that it may not be good. This reluctance may at times have been increased by professional self – interest. Reynolds et. al (1980) for example describes how what might have been an interesting survey at how schools generate delinquency was frustrated in the 1971 by the Inner London Educational Authority and the National Union of Teachers working together: non – cooperation, coupled with threats of industrial action ensured that the research was cut short.

Yet there is a body of theoretical and empirical literature that looks at school itself as a cause of truancy. Cloward and Ohlin (1961) regard truancy as part of a wider delinquency caused by “blocked opportunity” within school. Working class children begin their school careers reasonably confident about their aims and ambitions in life but the middle class bias of school tends to denigrate these aims and ambitions and to push others in their place the children dislike but lack the sophistication consciously to examine and reject. The result is a disaffection with school and it’s ideals that can result in delinquency. Cicourel and Kituse (1963) look more to the structure of relationships within school between teachers and pupils, how these progressively erode the self – esteem of working class pupils and produce feelings of inferiority that again, lead to delinquent behavior. Such broadly is the view taken by Carson, Gleeson and Wardhaugh (1992). They accept the traditional description of truants as children with what are normally defined as “problems” but go on to claim that the whole present structure of society, and not only schools are responsible for truancy. In his first study of the subject, O’Keefe (1981) divides truancy into two types.

This is “blanket” truancy, where the child stays completely away from school and which has been the only object of much study. Then there is post – registration truancy where the child is marked officially present at school but is subsequently absent from school / all lessons. He suggests that while no systematic research had yet been done here, such truancy is on a huge scale. Moreover, according to Stoll and O’keefe (1989) the scale of post registration truancy escalated throughout the 1980’s.

They cite a spot check was repeated on the same pupils. Their average attendance had declined to 61 per cent. Starting in 1985, Stoll and O’keefe headed a three year research project to identify the scale and causes of both blanket and post registration truancy.

They concluded that post registration truancy is the most common type and it’s causes are “principally a curricular issue”. It is clear that various factors encourage truancy and that literature does not point a finger at one particular factor such as ‘social, psychological or institutional). What is important is finding strategies to help deal with truancy and there is clearly a need for changes in the family, school, or social situation in which the child lives to bring about better attendance. Various projects have been implemented by educationalists, social workers, the police, lawyers and other professionals to solve the truancy problem. Remedies used to combat truancy include Whole – school policies and intervention schemes, home – school partnership programs, truancy patrols and Care orders. Looking at the Whole – school policies and intervention schemes it is possible to suggest that studies by Jones (1983) and Gupta (1990) which focus on the improvement of school attendance demonstrate the effectiveness of a Whole – school policy.

The strategies adopted include an evaluation of the curriculum, providing methods of building up positive self – image, improves interpersonal relationships and responsibility, encourages home – school partnership, providing an effective communication system, effective management of attendance, effective anti – bullying and special educational needs policies and professional development programs. The policies also tend to help those with ‘alternative needs’ who struggle to keep up in class. The policies enforces allowances to be made for individual differences. It caters for the very able, encourages continuous development of the curriculum, requires differentiation to be practiced with all year groups, puts forward the enhancement of the of all pupil’s achievements, requires an evaluation of the role of the teacher and encourages a flexible approach to learning (Le Riche, 1995). Other school – based strategies include managing attendance with reference to the duties of form tutors, subject teachers, the pastoral staff and the senior management team. Other preventative measures include interviewing individual pupils, and providing short and long term counseling sessions for both parents and pupils. Overall it is important to provide an atmosphere of a pupil friendly school so that pupils enjoy being in school and in that way pupils do not avoid school. Home – school partnership programs focuses on the involvement of parents and provides them with the right to be consulted about the development of their children.

It is clear that when pupils see the collaboration of home and school they are likely to cooperate. Home visits take place, there are interview’s with parents and pupils, whole year activities such as assertiveness training, small group work with the educational welfare officer etc. As stated earlier during this essay, the family may be the cause of truancy therefore if the parents are involved and helped then truancy could be remedied. Truancy patrols involves truancy watch schemes.

John Patten encouraged education authorities to set up such schemes as he believed that enlisting the help of the local community would reduce the number of truants roaming the streets (Le Riche, 1995). Such a scheme brought about much debate as it was difficult to figure out who can or should approach the young people roaming the streets during school hours. It is obvious that the police are suitable for such a job.

Care Orders seems to be effective as it provides young people with the realization that their parents, teachers and EWO’s take prompt action when they are caught truanting. Although truancy is not a criminal offence on the child personally but the parents may be prosecuted for failing to ensure their child attends school. Ruddic and Wood (1990) have found court orders to be an extremely effective tool for dealing with the problem of absenteeism in schools. However, Reid (1986) and Harris (1989) regard it as a last resort.

Reid’s and Harris’s view suggests that ‘tougher legal sanctions or the greater use of them will not necessarily cause the underlying problems to disappear’ (Reid (1986) and Harris (1989), cited in Le Riche, 1995: 81). In conclusion it would be possible to suggest that truancy is a serious problem that needs to be seriously considered by all members of society. Various causes have been put forward by a large amount of literature. Of course not everyone will agree with the causes mentioned but by examining them there is a possibility that all of them are valid. Remedies that involve the parents seem to be extremely effective as the parent’s awareness can surely play a big part in combating the problem as usually a lot of parents are unaware of their children’s school life.

It is also obvious that if the school improves the atmosphere and teaching methods than the pupils are more likely to want to go to school. A good teacher – pupil relationship is also important and can ensure better school attendance Truancy is the first sign of trouble and the first indicator that a young person is giving up and losing his or her way. When pupils start skipping school than they are telling their parent’s, school officials and the community at large that they are in trouble and need help if they are to move forward in life. Bibliography:Tyerman, Maurice J. Truancy. U of Chicago Press, 1984.