Council stages truancy sweep

By Rebecca SheppardTHE importance of attending school has been emphasised following a crackdown on truancy in a town centre.Two teams of education welfare officers were operating in Ipswich town centre yesterday to catch youngsters skipping school, with back-up from police.

By Rebecca Sheppard

THE importance of attending school has been emphasised following a crackdown on truancy in a town centre.

Two teams of education welfare officers were operating in Ipswich town centre yesterday to catch youngsters skipping school, with back-up from police.

A total of 37 children on their own or with parents or guardians were stopped during the day-long swoop and four were returned to school.


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Only 18 had a valid reason for not being in school, with 14 having unacceptable excuses. The rest of the youngsters did not attend school, for example because they were excluded or home-educated.

Not all the explanations given to Suffolk County Council officers for not being at school turned out to be genuine.

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John May, education welfare officer, accompanied by Pc Sarah Jarrold, stopped three boys and a girl in the town centre. They all claimed they had been excluded from school and Mr May took their details.

A quick call to his colleagues to cross-check the information revealed that in fact only one of the youths had been excluded from Orwell High School, Felixstowe, and he was sent on his way.

But the remaining youngsters did not react well to the news they would be returned to their schools by police car.

While waiting for officers to arrive, one of the boys, from Deben High School in Felixstowe, tried to flee before coming back again.

The other boy, also a pupil of Deben High School, repeatedly tried to run away, resulting in Pc Jarrold having to chase after him.

Eventually all the youngsters were ushered into the car and the two boys and the girl, a pupil at Copleston High School, Ipswich, were returned to their classes.

Sally Ruffles, county council education welfare officer, said: “This exercise raises awareness of the importance of children being in school if they are fit enough to be there. There are actually very few reasons for not being in school.

“We try to improve the overall level of attendance at schools by looking at not only unauthorised absences, but also authorised.”

Acceptable reasons for a child's absence from school include illness, the bereavement of a close relative, a religious festival or celebration observed by family members or special circumstances, such as heavy snow.

Emma Harris, from Ipswich, was stopped in the town centre with her 10-year-old daughter Kayleigh.

She said her daughter had been sent home from the town's St Helen's Primary School with a stomach bug the day before and had been told to stay off for 48 hours, which the Suffolk County Council team accepted.

“I don't mind being stopped and I think it is a good idea, especially if kids are on their own,” she added.

“She is sitting her SATs soon so it's very beneficial if she is there as much as possible. Fortunately, this is the first time she has had off for ages.”

But Ann Morgan-Skew was critical of the operation. She was stopped while in Ipswich with her two children James, eight, and Harry, six, whom she home educates.

Mrs Morgan-Skew said: “We have the right to home educate. This is the second time I have been stopped.

“They should attack truancy via the school. This exercise is such a waste of money when they know exactly who is in school. It is such a waste of police resources when there is so much crime.”

Tony Lewis, the council's portfolio holder for children and young people, said: “One of the best things parents and carers can do for children is to help them to go to school regularly and truancy sweeps can help reinforce this message.”

rebecca.sheppard@eadt.co.uk

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