In addition to the publication of pupil absence data, the Department is supporting locally devised projects to a value of £15.4 million in some 90 English local education authorities under the truancy and disaffected pupils programme of the grants for education support and training—GEST—scheme for 1995–96.
I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent answer about what the Government are doing. Does he agree that the primary group dealing with truancy must be the schools, working with parents to ensure that we cut down truancy as much as possible? What effect will the spotlight of publicity on recording the level of truancy in every school have on the truancy figures for the coming year?
I am convinced that, for too long, we have allowed absence from school to go unreported, unrecorded and, to a large extent, unnoticed and not properly dealt with. My firm belief is that in highlighting the problem and bringing out the facts about non-attendance at school, we, working with people involved in education, can tackle the problem and ensure that all our young people are in school or being educated—because if they are not in school, they are at risk.
Will the Minister tell the House what he would think of a head teacher who had a group of disaffected students outside his school, but allowed them back in even though they had not promised to improve their behaviour or to agree to follow school rules? Does he agree that the result would be to undermine the credibility of the head teacher and the discipline of the school?
Unlike the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends, I do not query the discretion, judgment or infinite wisdom of head teachers or anyone else in charge of groups of people.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one way to reduce the truancy level would be to increase the number of teachers in classrooms? Will he comment on what has happened in Lancashire, where there are 12,300 teachers to teach 217,000 pupils, a ratio of less than 18:1—yet the true ratio in three quarters of classes in Lancashire is more than 30:1? That means that 4,000 teachers are not teaching pupils in classes. They are outside schools, when they could be better employed inside schools.
I hope that, following my hon. Friend's question and a similar question from my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) earlier, parents in Lancashire will be asking searching questions about what on earth is happening in their county. It appears that there is a rather odd relationship between the number of pupils, the number of teachers and class sites. I know that my hon. Friends will help parents to get to the bottom of the matter and sort out education in Lancashire.