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On the topic of truants!

January 19, 2013

Did you know that there are around 10,000 parents being prosecuted in this country for not sending their children to school?  I find the whole issue of children not going to school an interesting one as well as a difficult one and I am not sure prosecution is the right way forward- in fact in some situations I think it is a completely ridiculous method to use to persuade children to attend school regularly.  So let me unpack the issue of why some children won’t go to school and why some parents don’t make them go.

Two years ago Red Balloon commissioned research and found that there were over 16,000 children between the ages of 11 and 15 in England not in school because they were too frightened to go because of the bullying they were experiencing – whether it was from children or teachers was not known.

As the CE of a charity which deals with children who will not attend school because they have been bullied I meet many parents at their wits’ end with their children, the school, the teachers and their local authority for not dealing with bullying.  How can that be?

I shall tell you a couple of stories about children who ‘truant’ because of bullying, one by their peers and the second by the teachers and the institution.  So surely the parents of these children should be prosecuting rather than being prosecuted?

One child I talked to recently told me that she wouldn’t go to school because she was ‘picked on all the time’.  When she was in the playground she was tormented, teased and humiliated. On a number of occasions her sandwiches were taken from her, passed around the group, broken into pieces and thrown at her.  She told me she found sitting in the lunch hall too dangerous – salt in her water, children staring as she ate, children stealing her chips – so a packed lunch was easier.

She told me that they tripped her up in the classroom, tipped her bag upside down and kicked the contents around the corridors, ‘stole’ her PE kit and wouldn’t let her sit next to them in class.  She said she felt as though she was bad, a nasty girl and that there was something wrong with her.  So she stopped going.

Last week I met a parent who told me her son wouldn’t go to school. I asked, “Why?” “He doesn’t feel valued”, she said. “One of the teachers called him ‘stupid’ and my son doesn’t think they want him to be there”.  She continued,  “They bribe him by telling him to do these sums and then he can play football.  If he doesn’t finish he isn’t allowed to play in the team. The only thing he lives for is football – and this is what they punish him with – so he won’t go.”  Is this bullying? It sounds a bit like it to me.

Calling children ‘stupid’, in whatever tone of voice, is not a great idea – teachers have so much more power than children and however it is meant, it should never be said. And bribing children with something they ‘live for’ seems perverse, to say the least.  I suggested to this parent that she asks that the PE teacher have her son as an apprentice for a few weeks – to play football and do gym and generally help the younger children learn sports skills. In this way he would turn up every day, it would help raise his self-esteem, –and this may in turn make him think he was wanted and valued and as he felt more confident so his enjoyment of education would be awakened.

So perhaps bullying may be a reason why some children won’t go to school.  I wonder how many of the ten thousand parents currently facing prosecution are parents of children bullied by teachers or bullied by their peers.  Either way I wouldn’t go either.

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