Truancy and school exclusions

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Reducing truancy and exclusions levels are an important part of Government social inclusion policy. Young people who attend school regularly are more likely to get the most they can out of their time at school, and therefore more likely to achieve their potential, and less likely to take part in anti-social or criminal behaviour. There is some evidence that poor literacy is, in some cases, a causal factor. An early survey by the Children's Society showed that the majority of those who are permanently excluded are boys aged between 13 and 15, most having started secondary school with a reading age behind that of their peers. This is backed up by Ofsted who reported that poor attendance was centred around pupils who were weak readers (1).

Recommendations by the 1998 Social Exclusion Unit report include dealing early with children's literacy and numeracy problems so that they catch up, and providing extra-curricular activities and experiences to improve motivation among those at risk of becoming disaffected. Teenage girls who are excluded from school should not be overlooked either, according to a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report.

Government approaches

Policy on truancy and school exclusions Targets The policy context (covers all ages)

Key issues highlighted in the press

Are schools excluding too many pupils? Pupils who disappear from the system

Continuing concern over the numbers of black children excluded The link between exclusion from school and homelessness The first national survey of school exclusions Strong links between social exclusion and criminality The Audit Commission reports on exclusions in England, October 1999


Government approaches

Strategies to address high rates of truancy and exclusions are wide-ranging and sometimes, but not always, include a literacy element. The Government introduced home school agreements to encourage parents to take their responsibilities seriously, along with fines and even prison for parents of persistent truants. Electronic registers, swipe cards and truancy patrols improve registration. More positive approaches to reduce disaffection and improve motivation in young people include an alternative (often work-based) school curriculum, reward schemes and celebrations of 100% student attendance at high profile school events. The Excellence in Cities programmes provide support for disaffected students through school-based learning support units and learning mentors. Other approaches include having school-based social workers.

Current Government policy is for local education authorities and schools to work together to reduce school exclusions and either get young people back into school or else find suitable alternative provision. There is an ongoing issue concerning the exclusion of black boys who form a much higher proportion of all excluded pupils than you would expect given their proportion in the school population as a whole.


The Government's Public Service Agreement sets the target for reduction of school absence at 8% by 2007/08. Local authorities are responsible for agreeing specific truancy reduction targets, in consultation with schools.

There are no longer targets to reduce school exclusions, introduced after the rapid rise in exclusions following the implementation of the national curriculum, league table pressures and local management of schools. Targets were criticised by schools because they distorted the enforcement of school behaviour policies, while penalising schools for excluding students hit hardest at those schools with the most challenging students and therefore with the highest levels of exclusions.



(1) Access, achievement and attendance in secondary schools, Ofsted, 1995.

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