Tuesday, May 06, 2008

In praise of truants

From the Torygraph again, informing us that truancy is at a 12 month high:
"Almost 350,000 children missed a day of school every week last term as absence rates soared to a 12 month high, according to official figures."
To which you think, "Is that all?"

Well, you should have.

Anyway, the government didn't have anything plausible to say on the subject:
"Ministers blamed the rise on a sharp increase in childhood illness, including cases of the winter vomiting bug norovirus among primary school children.

They also said more parents had taken pupils out of school for cheap term-time holidays."
Yes, very likely - that'll be it. By the way, I'm strongly in favour of parents taking their children on holiday during term-time, especially if said children - through no fault of their own - happen to be complete arseholes. Is your child an arsehole? Please take him/her on holiday - regularly and for long periods.

Un-named 'teachers', on the other hand, had something resembling a sensible answer...
"But teachers said pupils were becoming fed-up with school..."
'Cos school sucks. Like, totally. Especially when the weather's nice... Then they spoiled it by being silly.
"...and warned they needed more freedom to make lessons interesting."
No, no, no - it's in the Rules: you are not there to entertain them - still less to delude yourself that you can make your lesson more compelling than anything else that might distract them. Because apart from anything else, some of them are having sex. A gruesome thought, I'd agree - but I'm afraid it's true. How exciting would a lesson on how fucked-up the Balkans were at the turn of the century have to be to compete with this? It's beyond my competence, certainly.

Anyway, bit distracted from the point, which is that truants have a couple of qualities that are rarely recognised:

1) Often there's a certain degree of enterprise involved here. True story: pupil tells us that he was going to another school. We took this as a likely explanation as to why he hadn't been in class for a month. As it turned out, we were reliably informed, he hadn't gone to another school at all. Instead he'd bought a monthly cinema ticket and was going to the pictures every day. Say what you like about the importance of an education - it's difficult not to admire such a serious commitment to film-going.

2) It tends to be some of the ones that actually show up that cause most of the problems. Truants: people who hate school and have the grace not to turn up.

3) They serve as a sort of indicator. It's not quite comparable because school's already supposed to be compulsory but it's one of the reasons why making voting compulsory would be such a bad idea: elections are difficult enough to interpret without removing that essential indicator of the health of any system - a record of those who are either unwilling or unable to participate in its present form. Introducing or re-enforcing compulsion would be a way of avoiding the question as to whether it might be an idea to adapt the system instead.

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