Kay Kinder, Karen Halsey, Annie Johnson, Charlotte Fletcher-Morgan
13 May 2003
The 1998 Crime and Disorder Act gave police the powers to pick up truants found in public places and return them to schools or another place designated by the LEA. Sweeps are conducted by partnerships of uniformed police officers and education welfare officers (EWOs). During a sweep any young person believed to be of school age will be stopped and their non-attendance queried. This will happen whether or not they are accompanied by an adult. Hence, a sweep helps identify children with attendance problems, as well as those parents who are failing to take non-attendance seriously. In May 2002, a campaign of truancy sweeps was conducted in 82 LEAs. A repeat campaign took place later in the year during the second week of December, although this time it was extended to involve all LEAs. The NFER was commissioned by the DfES to evaluate both periods of truancy sweeps.
The aim of the evaluation was to examine the follow-up processes of young people who have been stopped by a truancy sweep. A sample of seven LEAs was identified and 119 interviews were conducted with those involved in truancy sweeps, including principle education welfare officers (PEWOs), education welfare officers (EWOs), school representatives, police, representatives from other agencies (for example Connexions, Youth Service) and pupils.
The overall effectiveness of a sweep was said to be influenced by what happens when a pupil is returned to school, as well as the quality of any subsequent follow-up. Many LEAs identified post-sweep follow-up as an area for further development. Suggestions for improvement included closer liaison with schools, coordinated post-sweep attendance monitoring, the targeting of parents as well as pupils during follow-up and dedicated truancy sweep coordinators.
Planning a sweep
In May 2002, very few LEAs appeared to engage schools significantly in the planning stages of the sweeps (this was influenced partly by a lack of time). It was felt that a stronger partnership was required - one that ensured schools were fully briefed on the sweeps and, in particular, that they were aware of the systems recommended for reintegrating pupils. For other agencies to sign up to the sweeps, it was noted that they needed to perceive a genuine role for themselves and have an understanding of the benefits for the remit of their own service. It was suggested that guidance setting out the specific expectations for schools and other participating agencies could help promote a sense of shared responsibility. Sweeps would then be seen as a multi-agency strategy, rather than an EWS-driven venture.
Operation of a sweep
It was generally viewed as good practice for patrol teams to carry various reference materials for prompt verification of young people's reasons for absence. These would typically include key contacts and phone numbers for schools, timetables for study leave or INSET days, names of excluded or off-roll pupils and contact details for sweep coordinators and patrol teams operating simultaneously. The use of a designated place (e.g. a community centre or Connexions office) was valued because it enabled a period of initial assessment, a chance to find out whether the young person was already involved in any attendance work and it allowed an area where the young person could have time to 'cool off'.
Reintegration of pupils
The main issue for interviewees regarding effective reintegration was that there should be a planned response that ensured pupils were returned appropriately to school and that they were received in a manner that would facilitate their smooth reintegration. A sympathetic and sensitive approach was recommended. It was also seen as beneficial to use supportive non-academic staff, such as learning mentors, school councillors or Connexions advisors to engage young people in initial discussion.
Sufficient follow-up work was recognised as vital to the success of a sweep. Planners may therefore wish to consider the sufficient allocation of resources to this work and the value in using dedicated staff to oversee follow-up. Where schools had been better briefed in the lead-up to sweeps, general awareness was said to be higher and schools were in a better position to play a more effective and supportive role in any follow-up. In relation to the monitoring of attendance, it was felt that this should be done through a coordinated system to ensure greater efficiency, and the specific responsibilities of schools, EWOs and other agencies therefore needed to be clarified. The extent of parentally condoned absence uncovered by the sweeps highlighted that follow-up with parents may be equally as important as follow-up with pupils. Interviewees felt that perhaps more could be done to reach out to parents after a truancy sweep. Interviewees also noted that follow-up very much depended on the individual needs of each pupil - sweeps uncovered a wide range of issues affecting young people's attendance and where a specific problem was exposed, for example a health issue, a referral was made to the appropriate agency. Hence, the need to outline the contributions of other agencies in this follow-up, possibly in the form of multi-agency protocols, was also highlighted.