The Old Problem of Truancy

The book I am most looking forward to in 2019 is a study of Jack the Ripper and the Thames Torso murders by Drew Gray and Andrew Wise. Gray currently runs the police magistrate blog, covering cases from the 19th century courts. As the subject of my next book, William Onion, was a frequent visitor to the courts I have been following the blog with interest. This week a piece on truancy stood out.

The 1880 education act made schooling compulsory for students under the age of ten and parents were hauled into court if their child was absent. Usually they were fined, even if they had a good reason such as the child being employed. Today about 20,000 parents are prosecuted each year. Some are fined, and others sent to jail. Despite this the rate of unauthorised absence from schools is 1.3%, the highest since records began.

As the policy of prosecution is not reducing truancy, we should be asking if it is the right method and, indeed, if schooling should be compulsory. With fewer qualified teachers and higher class sizes is it really sensible to force more students to attend school when their parents don’t want them there?



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