Truancy and coercive consent: is there an alternative? Karen McIntyre‐Bhatty (2008) Educational Review
If truancy is defined as a radical act of dissent in the absence of real choice in the school marketplace, or as ‘‘voting with one’s feet’’ about the state of the State school system by an otherwise largely unheard and disempowered youth, enforcement of school attendance may be considered a means of disabling choice, or the right to protest.
The paper challenges the rhetoric around truancy, the presumption that school is the best place and that retention in school is the best outcome. McIntyre‐Bhatty puts forward suggestions for alternate remedies that will help prevent the negative outcomes associated, including low attainment, unemployment and criminality.
Researchers highlight the way in which truancy is viewed as a moral panic, because it is seen as withdrawal from society. School is viewed as the only place to get an education and learn appropriate moral and social values and so rejecting this is seen as deviant.
But children and young people have very limited rights within schools, as well as limited ways to show their dissatisfaction, except through flight.
There has been little attempt to understand these children, they are labelled as problems and got rid of. Only one in three local authorities has even looked at the reasons for truancy.
One factor highlighted by researchers is that children and their grades have become a ‘product’, children with good grades are valuable but low achieving children have very low confidence and self-esteem, knowing that their worth is low. This is particularly compounded for ethnic minorities, and groups such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children.
Reasons behind truancy were often interconnected including problems with other students, with teachers, with the curriculum and ability to manage in a classroom. Students who struggled academically and students who were very gifted are both highly represented in truancy figures. Full blame is put on the truant and their parents, with no blame being attributed to the institutions. Instead of forcing unhappy children back into the same broken system other options should be explored.
Researchers note that local authorities say families turn to home education to avoid prosecution. “However, regardless of how students arrive at home education, the benefits have been well established. A growing body of international research has served to demonstrate the educational efficacy of this alternative practice; achievement levels have been proved to be high, self-esteem and engagement levels have similarly been seen to improve in children educated in this manner, and concentration levels have demonstrably improved in children with specific educational difficulties such as attention deficit disorder.”
McIntyre-Bhatty says that for students who are truanting because they are completely dissatisfied, feel desperate, or feel strongly that their needs are not being met; enforced return is entirely ineffective. Despite all the money spent, the schemes, the prosecutions levels of truancy have not fallen. She concludes that home education should be an option which is supported and respected. “School is not compulsory; education is.”