Just before Easter in 1989 the police mounted a special patrol in London’s Oxford Street and in four weeks eleven officers picked up three hundred and thirty three children between the ages of seven and sixteen. We must wonder where the children came from and why they were there.
It is obvious that discipline with a school is important – and must be crucial to the level of truanting. It must be difficult for some parents to spot if their child is playing truant. A truant will often stay away from home during the hours that he or she is supposed to be in at school. Schools have to keep a register of all children in the classes. Some schools have amazing systems to allow children to `clock in’ and parents can then notified of absences by text messages and the like.
As a child I used to envy Tom Sawyer who was able to go floating off down the Mississippi with his great friend Huckleberry Finn. When I became a teacher my view of truancy had to change.
I was given a book called The Backward Child by my first headmaster – Mr. W. W. Wilson. I had been given the top class of the year group for my first three years of teaching and Mr. Wilson offered the fourth stream for the fourth year – hence handing me on his copy of `The Backward Child’. My edition is the 1957 edition (The book was first written in 1937.) Sir Cyril updated the book to take into account some of the consequences of the 1944 Education Act. This was the act which tried to make provision for different types of children. In part, the act lead to the development and extension of the eleven plus examination.
Page 562 gives one of Sir. Cyril Burt’s interpretations of truancy:
“At school the dull child feels a hopeless failure. His life may be one humiliating round of rebuke, disgrace and punishment. He soon comes to dread the daily journey. He is tempted to play truant. Truancy brings freedom and opportunities for enjoyable mischief; and so little by little he drifts into crime.”
It seems possible that some bright children may also come to dread the daily journey. There could be some able children bored by school and all that school offers. The challenge of the eleven plus may be welcome to some children. These could be children who love solving problems and feeling that they are being extended and enriched.
Parent could test this `theory’ themselves. They could offer their child the choice of a new and innovative eleven plus exercise – or the ennui of yet another eleven plus paper. Some children would find this an easy choice to make.
Excuse me – but would the innovative and energetic Tom Sawyer have passed the eleven plus – if he had had the opportunity?