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Clause 1

Part of Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 31st January 2008.

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Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 1:45 pm, 31st January 2008

The 10 per cent. figure is what we are principally chasing after. However, we are chasing after it by seeking to shift the culture. I want to quote Paul Head, the fine constituent of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Innovation, Universities and Skills. He stated:

“The reason I welcome compulsion is that it changes the nature of the terms of the debate. You no longer ask, ‘How do we work our way up to 85 or 90 per cent.?’ You actually start asking, ‘Why are we not at 100 per cent.?’ That is a mindset difference that schools, colleges, local authorities, employers and private training providers need to get their heads around. We have to do it for 100 per cent.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 154, Q348.]

I felt that that was a compelling statement that was made by that particular college principal, and it sums up much of the argument around why we are seeking to do this.

In respect of the point about absence, I am sure that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire will be listening very closely to this. It is easy for people to associate absence with truancy because in normal use of the English language the two words are related. However, in respect of what the statistics actually measure, there is a strong difference between general absence, which includes authorised absence and truancy, and unauthorised absence, which includes a number of other things. For example, unauthorised absence includes instances when parents take children on holiday without the permission of the school. That has increased because in our guidance “Every Lesson Counts” we ask schools to enforce more rigorously the notion that children should be at school every day of the school year. Schools are responding to our encouragement and are authorising parents to take their children out of school for holidays less, but some parents do proceed with that sort of unauthorised absence.

Before we conclude our examination of the Bill, I am sure it will help the Committee to know that, assuming we continue with proceedings until 29 February, the latest statistical release of absence will be published on  26 February. For the first time that will include a breakdown of excuses, so we will finally be able to nail down more closely what numbers are truant and what numbers are not. I am sure that will be of huge comfort to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire.