Most of these teenagers have missed huge chunks of their schooling, and all of them have now been excluded from their mainstream schools. But their presence here today represents serious progress. This scene may look purposeless – a small group of boys are hanging round the front entrance, chatting with fizzy drink cans in their hands – but actually, this is authorised chill-out time after a full morning of learning to use spreadsheets and working on a project about “Life in the Wild”.
Yes, following Monday’s ‘The riots were the inevitable result of not just handing the moon on a stick to our precious youth!’, here’s ‘Why truancy is all the fault of the educational system!’….
“Sometimes I used to just lie in bed and think, ‘Shall I get up today, or not?‘” says Dominique St Hilaire, the girl with the remote control. “School just seemed to pull me down, and make me depressed.“
Awwww, poor baby! Quick, someone, pander to her!
Like all these teenagers, 15-year-old Dominique is now enrolled on a programme called Choices, run by the Rathbone charity as an alternative to mainstream school. And, along with several of her classmates, she has recently taken part in the first national survey of persistent truants, run by the charity. It asked 300 young people why they missed school and what types of intervention might have persuaded them to turn up regularly.
Which, if it sounds about as worthless as asking rioters why they rioted and expecting to learn anything useful from it, well, congratulations!
You’ve come to a realisation that appears to have escaped the ‘Guardian’…
Just over half those surveyed said their parents were aware they were truanting, and just under half said their friends encouraged them to miss lessons. One fifth had been stopped by the police while truanting, and 55% had been excluded from school at some point. A quarter had missed school to care for a relative; many were coping with chaotic family backgrounds, and most with the sense that school just really wasn’t for them.
Well, I can agree with that. School isn’t for them. How about Borstal instead?
Dominique, her thick hair partly dyed red and pulled back from her face, tends to look down when she talks, but underneath the awkwardness there’s a spark about her. Her secondary school never gave her a chance, she says. With seven half-sisters, six half-brothers and a raft of cousins, some of whom weren’t model pupils themselves, she thinks they just saw her coming; stamped her with the label that tends to get stuck on all the St Hilaires around here.”They assumed I was just thick, and wouldn’t get anywhere,” she says. “Most of my brothers and sisters and cousins went there, and most of them missed school, too. Quite a few of them had ADHD. When you’ve got a name for skiving, if you ask for help they just tell you to get on with it.”
You know, reading that list of familial relationships, I’m thinking little Dominique’s life chances were screwed long, long before the state education system stepped in.
In year 9, Dominique started skipping lessons; going out in the mornings as if she was going to school, but then ending up at a friend’s house, or hanging out in the town centre. Then one of her half-brothers died, and her life went off the rails. She hated people at school asking her about it, she says. “My mum was always being called to meetings at the school. She didn’t like it, but what could she say? She did it herself,” Dominique says. Fines and court appearances were talked about, but she never believed in them: “I’ve never known it to happen. I didn’t believe in it.” And if her mother had had her benefits taken away? “I’d have said I was going to school, but I wouldn’t have. Anyway, my dad gives my mum money.“
Really? Not the benefit system? Hmmm, I rather hope the DWP is reading this….
At Rathbone, they do have procedures for dealing with persistent absence, and theoretically they could end in court – but in the decade the centre has been open that’s never happened, according to its manager, Rechelle Boothroyd.
Heh! It’s like that quote from ‘The Simpsons’, isn’t it? ‘You gotta help us, doc, we’ve tried nothin’ and we’re all out of ideas!’.
The main strategy here is to engage the children – about 30 of them at present – in a way their previous schools have usually failed to do. The basics are taught through projects and games, and lessons have been renamed “sessions” so the pupils won’t have their usual negative reaction to them. And to a large extent, it works – the attendance here is 70%, which, while not brilliant, is a lot better than most of these pupils were managing elsewhere.
Are you hoping for praise?
You are pandering to these kids, bending over backwards to fit in with them, and sooner or later they are going to have to learn that life’s not like that!
If they decide they just ‘don’t want to go to work today’, the company won’t set up a team to find out what the problem is, or rename their roles to make then feel better about themselves, they’ll be fired.
Luckily, the government is having none of it. At least, so far:
A spokeswoman for the DfE said it was up to parents, as well as schools, to clamp down on persistent absence: “Even one day missed from school without very good reason is one too many,” she said.
“Parents must have a real stake in their child’s education, and they need to face real consequences if their children continually skip school. That’s why we’re looking at whether we should cut the benefits of those parents whose children constantly play truant.”
Hurrah! Bring it on!
Katie Holmes, 15
“I was OK till year 8, but after that the teachers didn’t respect me, so I’d swear at them and interrupt the class. If they sent me home, I wouldn’t go back the next day. I used to wake up in the morning and think I just couldn’t be bothered going to school. I think really I did it because I was trying to make myself look hard.”
Josh Jessop-Woodhead, 15
“I’ve got dyslexia, and that’s why I messed about and missed lessons, because I didn’t know what I was doing. Mostly I used to miss geography because my teacher talked to me like I was an idiot. The school used to ring my mum and she’d shout at me. I just needed a bit more help.”
Dominique St Hilaire, 15
“All my friends used to skive. Sometimes we’d go to school and go home at dinner time; sometimes we’d just not go at all. My mum used to tell me off about it, but she understood because she did that herself.”
Oh, yeah. Clearly the scientists and innovators of the future… *rolls eyes*