Thursday, July 27, 2006

The truancy scam

We've just been looking at the truancy sweep data for Spring 2006. Since we published our research almost a year ago very little has changed.

In fact, looking back over the data since 2002, there's a clear pattern: an average truancy sweep stops around 10 children, and around 4 of those will be counted as truants. Well, at first glance that probably sounds like a reasonable use of public money, always assuming one isn't too bothered by the human rights implications of having the police question 6 young people who are going about their lawful business, nor about the type of surveillance to which it habituates them - not to mention the fact that some non-truanting children are intimidated and upset by the whole shebang.

On average, each truancy sweep lasts 3 hours and occupies 2 police officers, several education welfare officers and other staff, police drivers, community support officers - all to 'catch' 4 truants. Do they still sound like a reasonable use of resources?

When we published our report, our presence was requested at DfES. At a meeting that was less than mutually cordial - indeed, one of the DfES staff was aggrieved that the breakfast news reports had caused him to choke on his cornflakes - the role that 'presentation' plays in truancy sweeps became apparent. Hardly surprising: they must serve some kind of purpose, and it doesn't appear to be the obvious one of reducing truancy figures.

Mystifying, then, that Joe Public is prepared to continue doling out council tax funds without a murmur for what is little more than a macho advertising campaign designed to frighten everyone.


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