Gove: Truancy push to tackle 'educational underclass'

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Education Secretary Michael Gove: "We cannot shrink from radical action"

The education secretary has announced a review of truancy sanctions in England to help tackle an "educational underclass" of "lost souls".

Michael Gove said a "missing million" pupils missed more than 10% of lessons, and policing of sanctions was "weak".

There was a link between failure in education and recent rioting although the disturbances were mainly an issue of "right and wrong", he added.

One teaching union said the use of the term "underclass" was "not helpful".

In a wide-ranging speech at Durand Academy in south London, Mr Gove said: "We still, every year allow thousands more children to join an educational underclass - they are the lost souls our school system has failed.

"It is from that underclass that gangs draw their recruits, young offenders' institutions find their inmates and prisons replenish their cells."

'Missed opportunities'

He went on to say: "We cannot say often enough that what we saw this summer was a straightforward conflict between right and wrong."

But he added: "To investigate where the looters came from is not to make excuses because of background... It is to shine a light on failures that originated in poor policy, skewed priorities and the deliberate undermining of legitimate authority."

Asked if there was a connection between educational failure and the rioting, he said: "I think there is a link.

"We have a group of people in society whom we have failed... we have failed to provide them with the structure, values and educational opportunities that they need.

"We can't wash our hands of the situation that gave rise to what went wrong."

Mr Gove said that for some children, education was "a tragic succession of missed opportunities".

Poor boundaries and failure to learn to read in primary school led to disruptive behaviour, truancy and exclusion, he said.

He announced that he would be requesting that the government's behaviour adviser, Charlie Taylor, should look specifically at the sanctions that schools, the police and courts are able to use against truanting pupils and their parents.

Official statistics class 175,000 pupils as persistently absent, as they missed 20% of lessons.

But the government is lowering the threshold to 15% - which brings the total to more than 430,000 children, he said.

And those missing 10% of school amount to a "missing million", he added.

Policing of sanctions such as parenting orders and fines was "weak" he said.

"When fines are imposed they are often reduced to take account of an adult's expenditure on satellite TV, alcohol and cigarettes," Mr Gove said.

'Unambiguous lesson'

He also said the government was reviewing pupil referral units (PRUs) and other "alternative provision" for pupils excluded from mainstream education.

"Far too few" such institutions met the required standards, he said.

He questioned whether it was right that there was no statutory minimum amount of teaching hours in such institutions and that "so much" of their provision was not subject to proper inspections.

On school discipline, Mr Gove said teaching was sometimes currently undermined "by the twisting of rights by a minority who need to be taught an unambiguous lesson in who's boss".

He announced that the government had decided to remove a requirement - due to come into force on Thursday under previous legislation - that teachers should keep a record of each time they used physical restraint on pupils.

The Association of School and College Leaders welcomed the decision, saying the rule would have imposed "yet another bureaucratic burden".

But the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower, said the use of restraint was rare and it was "perfectly reasonable" to record it.

Mr Gove has already brought in no-notice detentions, tougher powers to allow teachers to search pupils for banned items, and anonymity for teachers facing abuse allegations.

Ms Blower also said, however, that the use of the word "underclass" was "probably not helpful".

But she said that the NUT agreed with Mr Gove that all children should achieve the maximum that they are able to.

Mr Gove's speech comes the same day as the incoming president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned the government risked creating a "lost generation" if it continued to "dismantle state education".

Alice Robinson said: "The government seems hell-bent on returning to Victorian times when those in education were taught a narrow and rigid curriculum and troublesome children disappeared out of sight."

She warned that that funding cuts could lead to the loss of support services such as speech therapists and educational psychologists, and the shift to academies could hit vulnerable children as local authorities played a reduced role in co-ordinating school admissions.

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