Truancy is about learners who have not been attending school regularly as required by the school, parents and even the authorities. Truant behavior is a problem for the individual, the family, the school and society in general. Free and compulsory education is recognized as a basic entitlement under international standards, including the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).
With the right to free education and the obligation corresponding to this right observed and enforced through a national emphasis on school attendance, The National Statistic Office (Malta) states that in the 2004/2005 scholastic year the figure for school absenteeism accounted for 7.7% of the total number of school days in the reference period or an overall absence rate of 9.2 absent days per pupil – that for boys being 10.0 days per pupil and for girls 8.4 days per pupil. As a teacher this makes me fretful about students missing school as this can be associated with subsequent emotional and psychosocial problems in early adulthood and is a predictor of multiple problems (Fogelman & Hibbert, 1990).
Truancy may have both short and long term effects on society. There is evidence that truancy is linked to delinquent behaviour and juvenile crime (Collins, 1998; Reid, 1999). According to Jones (1996),
‘Absenteeism is a sign of trouble that often leads to lower academic skills and grades, delinquency, and dropouts. Studies have shown that high school dropouts are twice as likely to be unemployed and on welfare, and overall, tend to be facing a more difficult life than their graduating counterparts.’
Jones (1996; p.128),
All members who form part of any educational institution cannot allow these students to give up on themselves. We as a modern, fast developing society, we cannot afford to let them surrender. It is clearly far less expensive to educate them than pay for a lifetime of welfare and all of the deprivations that welfare represents.
These are ominous issues, which imply that the number of students who skip school is rising and that school absenteeism is a new generation’s behaviour that is today a dramatic social phenomenon. This proposal drafts the intent to investigate and explore realities of how truancy manifests with Maltese youth and also explore the psychosocial world of truants in Maltese schools.
As a supply teacher for these past five years, I have witnessed incidences of truancy in the period 2006 to 2009. One of the common truancy reducation measures used was to lock the school gates during lessons and breaks and open them after school hours (my personal exsperience). Despite the limited impact on truancy reducation, the approach of locking gates is still common and evident in some secondary schools. I found locked gates while visiting some of the schools. Gangsters, to control late coming and to stop learners from dodging classes, locked gates to prevent trespassing, sepecially.
Since 1946 education has been compulsory for all children between six to fourteen years and extended to the age of 16 by the Education Act (Malta) of 1971. Maltese law imposes a duty on parents to ensure that their children of compulsory school age receive appropriate education, whether through attendance at a state or independent school. If they fail to do so, without any reasonable excuse and if found guilty, they are liable to a fine not exceeding in previous currency one Maltese Lira (equivalent to â‚¬2.33) for each day during which the offence continues, unless the parent fails to give a good and sufficient explanation within three days from the date he or she receives a notice from the Director of Education (Malta Education Act 1988).
From January 2001 up to December 2002 there were 8,903 arraignments before the local tribunals in connection with school absenteeism (Grech, 2002). This figure represents only the number of students who were absent from school without a valid reason on more than three occasions in the time frame of a month. It is a known fact that there are a number of students that systematically plan three days off from school each month, just for the sake that they use their monthly absence allowance and knowing that in this way their parents would not receive a citation.
Surveys show that the overall absence rate between 25th September 2000 to 31st March 2001 stood at 10.5 days per pupil (NSO Malta, 2001). This figure reveals an increase of 5.2% over 1999/2000 scholastic year (NSO Malta, 2001). Thus it shows that during this period, 657,604 pupil days were lost to absenteeism and authorised absence due to sickness.
Indeed, the Clark Report (2005) shows concern for the increase in unauthorised absenteeism with parental consent, particularly in state secondary schools which cater, in the main, for a student population coming from a working- class background. Family problems, psychological problems, illnesses, school phobia and bullying have, significantly, been indicated by the Clark focus group to be the topmost reasons contributing to school avoidance.
Most of the research conducted abroad seems to provide information regarding the nature and extent of truancy in secondary schools. Results of a study conducted at a school in London from 1985 to 1987 revealed that 70% of the sampled pupils admitted truanting during the three-year period (Stoll, 1990:22). In the study that involved nine secondary schools, 66% of the 765 fifth – year pupils admitted truanting (ibid). Figures on truancy in 150 English secondary schools revealed that 31% of pupils in years 10 and 11 admitted that they played truant or skipped lessons (O’Keefe & Stoll, 1995:12).
Gray and Jesson (1990:25) report about the major national survey results of truancy in English secondary schools. According to this study, 23% of all fifth year pupils were involved in truant behavior and they were less likely to stay on in full-time education. Furthermore, schools facing serious problems of truancy tend to be in the inner city rather than in other areas (ibid). on the other hand, Collins (1998:26) reports that absentee rates vary between schools in the London Education Authority.
Munn and Johnstone (1992:4) found that out of a sample of 50 Scottish secondary schools, 18% of the pupils (11% in June and 7% in November) were classified as truants and were mostly form the senior years. These figures exclude truants within the school day, as “14 schools reported that they did not keep period attendance records” (ibid).
Truancy has long been a subject for research in various parts of the USA. According to Nelson (1972:98), 64% of the 591 students surveyed identified themselves as class truants. Learners habitually play truant each day in Los Angeles, Pittsburg and Milwaukee (Black, 1996:33).
Bos, Ruiters and Visscher (1992:393) found that the average rate of truancy in 36 schools in the four Dutch cities studied was 4.4% and that truancy increased with the level of the class in almost all schools. Some researchers further indicate that truancy does not necessarily mean missing the whole day of school but found that I could be in the form of missing a part of a day or particular lesson (Kilpartick, 1998:31; Reid, 1999:91).
In a study conducted by Malan in South Africa (1972:144), 2,738 out of 69,908 pupils were identified by their teachers as truants. Masithela (Masithela, 1992:33) observed that learners tend to miss lessons during the first and second periods, as well as during the last give periods. The tendency of missing certain lessons towards the end of the school day shows that some form of “hidden truancy” is prevalent and that pupils can be marked present in the register but fail to attend all lessons (ibid:45). On the other hand, they may come late and be marked absent or be somewhere on the school premises not attending certain lessons or periods, but still be marked as being present on the class resisters.
Truancy is about learners who have not been attending school regularly as required by the school, parents and even the authorities. Tyerman (1968) defines the term truant as the child who is absent from school purely on his or her own initiative. Gabb (1994) includes in his definition of truant, that a child who is absent with leave given by his or her parents, or who are actually kept at home by the parents. Hersov (cited in Gabb, 1994) goes still further, dividing from truants, ‘school phobics’ and ‘school refusers’. King (2001) furthermore defines school refusal/school phobics as a difficulty to attend school due to emotional distress, especially anxiety and depression.
Fenech (1991) (in an unpublished research) defines ‘absenteeism’ as ‘being away from lessons for any period of time and for reasons not considered as legitimate, with or without the parents’ knowledge’ (p.3). She goes on to include ‘physical presence without any attention being given to a lesson in progress … [as well as] masked or selective truancy’ (ibid., p.3). Fenech (ad. lib.) refers to the latter as ‘skiving off specific lessons or disappearance after registration’ (p.3) remarking that a number of sources consider absenteeism and truancy synonymous.
Sultana (1997), like Fenech (1991), defines absenteeism as ‘staying away from school for reasons not justified by the law’ (p. 355). However, she goes on to include other ‘less overt ways’ (ibid., p 355) such as what Willis (1977) calls participating in ‘informal mobility’ (ibid., p. 355). This includes not entering the class for lesson, intentionally staying in another class, leaving the class without permission, or staying in class without bothering to follow the lesson.
When seen from a psychological viewpoint, truancy may be symptomatic of learns who are insecure and have low academic achievement levels and low self-esteem. Lewis (1995:37) states that attendance difficulties my broadly result from a combination of “pull” and “push” factors. Pull factors are personal and social aspects that “pull” a learner out of school. The pull factors may be related to the psychological indices mentioned by Reid (2002:11), such as maladjustment, a lower general level of self-esteem and academic self concept, anxiety and lower career aspirations.
Factors that “push” learners away from school include academic and classroom aspects such as inapproachability of the teaching staff, incomprehensible teaching style and inappropriate classroom management. Other factors relating to the school and the classroom include bullying, the curriculum, boring lessons (Reid, 1999:91), teachers’ humiliating remarks (Porteus, Clacherty, Mdiya, Pelo, Matsai, Qwabe and Donald 2000:11), poor record-keeping and school organization (Bimler & Kirkland, 2001:90; Coldman, 1995:29).
According to Pappas (1996:1), truancy is often symptomatic of family dysfunction, since the parents of truants tend to be permissive, undisciplined and unavailable. Some authors believe that truancy is associated with a poor socio-economic background, including poverty, poor housing and unemployment (Bell, Rosen and Dynlacht, 1994:204; Tyerman, 1958:222). Some researchers state that there is a link between truancy and delinquent behavior (Collins, 1998:38; Brown, 1998:298-299; Reid, 1999:25).
There is a need to distinguish between truancy and school phobia. The concept “school phobia” describes a learner who is unwilling to attend school and stays at home with the knowledge of parents (Wicks and Nelson, 2000:123). A learner’s problem often stats with a vague complaint or reluctance to attend school and progresses to total refusal to go to school. Blagg (1992:121) asserts that school phobia may be induced by fear-arousing aspects of school, such as fear of failure caused by anxiety about meeting the standards. Fear may also be related to worries about the health and welfare of parents (Blagg, 1992:123). In the other hand, a learner who plays truant misses the whole school day or lessons without the knowledge of parents or caregivers. Furthermore, a truant tends to be involved in various forms of anti social behavior (Blagg, 1992:121).
Milner and Blyth (1999:18) acknowledge the difficulties involved in studying the prevalence and pattern of truancy and in comparing current and past school attendance or absence. The difficulties are partly compounded by the variations in the definition of truancy itself (Boyd, 1999:22; Gabb, 1997:2) and the multifaceted nature of truancy (Edward and Malcolm, 2001:1; Reid, 1999:17).
The problems associated with studies on truancy should, however, not prevent further research from being conducted. Solutions should be found, or the cause at least eliminated, because truancy is regarded as a serious problem with socio-economic implications. A preliminary review of the literature reveals that truancy is a major problem form schools and society and a most powerful predictor of juvenile delinquent behavior (Van Petegem, 1994:272; Wiehe, 2000).
Reid (2002:2) maintains that the amount of money spent on truancy reduction initiatives proves the extent of truancy.
Data on the extent and nature of truancy in schools are often based on information obtained from class registers. This information may be inadequate or almost incomplete and limits the understanding of the phenomenon, thus making it difficult to develop appropriate intervention strategies. More insight on how truancy manifests is needed to provide a base on which to suggest, plan and develop effective intervention strategies. Therefore, further research is needed to enable education officials, schools, parents and other professionals to manage learners with attendance difficulties more efficiently. This study serves to bridge the information gap regarding the nature of truancy and to provide a picture of the life world of truants in Secondary Schools.
The aim would be to describe truancy in general as stated in the literature and to conduct an empirical study in order to determine how truancy behaviour manifests in secondary schools and what the life world of truants looks likes. The findings can then be used to inform and guide future practice.
The aim of the study would be to gather information that will be used to guide the school (college) community – namely the SMT, form teachers, subject teachers, guidance teachers and school councillors, youth workers in school and other stakeholders – to help in the interventional approaches and procedures that can be used for reducing truancy.
In order to realise the above aims, the following questions are set to direct the research:
The study will comprise two methods, namely, a literature study and an empirical investigation. A study of the literature will derive information on studies about poor school attendance and procedures employed to mange or reduce truancy from books, research articles, journals and other resources.
A quantitative research design will be used in the empirical investigation. This investigation aims to gather data by means of a questionnaire that will be given to learns in Form 1 and Form 2 in eight randomly selected schools, , incorporating two Junior Lyceums, two Area Secondary and two Church schools.
A qualitative research design will be used with guidance teachers, counselors, youth workers, form teachers, Assistant Head of Schools and Heads of School currently working in schools. A focus group and interviews with Heads will help me to investigate what the School community is doing to combat truancy. Such data will be advantageous in that they are ‘the most adequate [tool] to capture how a person thinks of a particular domain’ (Goldsmiths Collage, n.d.). More over since a face to face rapport with the interviewee, it is induced to continue questioning the subject in order to confirm the hypothesis about his or her beliefs, seeking appraise any underlying meaning in the process.
Due to time constraints, the preset research is confined to then 8 randomly selected secondary schools in Malta. A list of all secondary schools was compiled to allow for the random selection of 8 schools, which will form part of this study. This sample was mainl cohosen on the basis of cost implicaitons and accessibility.
In this section a number of concepts that are relevant to this research are defined.
Reids (1999:1) asserts that the term ‘truancy’ is often misused and can be applied both generically and with a local meaning. In the different parts of Great Britain, truancy is known as ‘dodging’, ‘skipping off’, ‘mitching’, ‘skiving’, ‘bunking off’ and ‘going missing’, respectively. Whitney (1994:49) defines truancy as ‘absence that has not been authorized by the school and where leave has not been given or approved’. Another definition provided by Collins (1998:2), who states that truancy is about pupils who have been registed with a school but identified as not attending school when the law says they should. This definition includes absences from a particular lesson or lessons, known as ‘post-registation truancy’ (Gabbs, 1994:5; Stoll, 1990:23).
Clark Report (2005) identify as truancy when a student is voluntarily absent or not attending school without their parents’ permission and often, awareness (Anglicare, Werribee Family Services 2000). Truancy is defined as unjustifiable or unexplained absence from school with attempts by the student to conceal the absenteeism. Usually the child avoids home when not at school and the parents are often unaware of the child’s absence (Rollings, King, Tonge, Luk, Heyne, Ramsdell, Burdett & Martin, 1999).
The concept blanket truancy refers to absence from the whole school day, which is usually reflected on the class register, while post-registration truancy occurs when the learner is marked present but fails to turn up at a lesson or lessons (Stoll, 1990:23).
In this research, the term ‘truancy’ is broadly defined as unauthorized absence from school. The definition is adopted with the assumption that absence with the knowledge and permission of the school and parents or guardians does not constitute truancy. Since the study seeks to explore the type of truancy as manifested at secondary schools, both concepts of truancy (blanket and post-registration) are relevant and will be investigated.
A truant is a ‘child aged 6 – 17 years old’ who absents himself or herself form school without a legitimate reason and without permission of his or her parents or the school official’ (Schaefer and Millman, 1981: 335). For the purpose of this research, a truant refers to a learner who, after being registered at a school, absents himself or herself from school or lessons without a legitimate reson or permission from parents or the school official.
The traditional or typical truant: Traditional truants tend to be isolated that come from an unsupportive home background, possibly with a tendency to be shy. It is likely that they will have a low self-concept, be introverted and be the citim of their social circumstances.
The psychological truant: could be the school phobic (school refusal) case but more othen than this psychological truant miss school for psychological related factors such as illness, opsychomatric complaints, laziness, a fear of attending scholl for any reason (such as dislike of a teacher, a lesson, an impending confrontation or fear of bullying.)
The Institutional truant: Institutional truants are more likely to indulge in ‘on the spur of the moment’ absences from lessons and to be selective about days or lessons to miss.
A school that admits or registers and educates learners in Form 1 – Form 5 is known as a secondary school.
In this research, the term ‘life world’ refers to the psychological context this is made up of elements such as interpersonal aspects, the family, school and the broader community. According to this definition, the life world involves the personal and external world of the learner. The personal word refers to intrinsic factors. The external word is made up of the broader educational systems, the home environment and the community where the child spends his time when not at school. Relevant intervention strategies would be easier to suggest if the contextual issues related to the phenomenon under investigations are understood.
The research comprises give chapters, as follows:
In this chapter, the background information in the seriousness and implication of truancy are discussed. The chapter also includes an analysis of the problem, the problem statement, aims of the study, description of the research method and definition of the concepts.
Chapter 2 entails a review of the literature on types of truancy and the causes of truancy or contributing factors in different countries, including in Malta. Different approaches that the various countries and schools use to manage truancy will also be discussed.
This chapter deals with research designs and methods. A discussion of the research problem, the aim of the empirical investigation, the research tool used in the study and the selection of the sample will be included. Details of the compilation and administration of questionnaires as well as an analysis of data will be presented.
In this chapter, the results of questionnaires will be presented. The results will be analyzed to find answers to the research questions.
The chapter entails a summary of the research finding, conclusions and recommendations. A summary of the results from the literature study and the limitation of the study will be included.
This chapter focuses on the background and analysis of the problem, as well as the aims of the study. An attempt will be made to explain the research method used, relevant concepts and planned programmes of the research.
The next chapter will contain the review of the literature on the types of truancy, factors contributing to truancy behavior, the rate and extent of truancy and the strategies used to manage truancy.
According to Tyerman (1958:217), truancy has been a problem to all concerned with education since 1870’s. Approximately 750 children were charged for truancy in England and Wales in 1954 (ibid: 220). This figure could have been an underestimation as it was based on learners who were referred to courts, and therefore represented mainly incorrigible truants (ibid). Furthermore, the figure gives a general picture of truanting children in one country only and without an indication whether it was absence from certain lessons or whole school day absence. Truancy is currently a problem in communities. In Clark’s report concern was expressed about truancy among school children. Data presented in this report indicates that non-attendance exists, and has become an issue of increasing concern for schools, educational and student welfare organizations. Non-attendances viewed as being among one of the key problems facing some schools. There is increasing concern for the seemingly large number of children and young people, who are, for a range of reasons, missing out on the benefits of education and possibly on a better future (Dr. L. Galea, The Times 9th February, 2005). Non-attendance can be the beginning of countless problems for students who regularly miss out on school (Heyne, King, Tonge, Rollings, Pritchard & Young,1999).
The extent and nature of truancy are best understood in terms of whether it implies absence for the whole day or during a particular lesson. This chapter deals with how blanket and post-registration truancy manifest, the causal factors and various measures of reducing truancy in secondary schools.
Normab (2001:49) states that 50,000 children play truant on a normal school day in England. The number of truants’ increases steadily with age and most truants are found at secondary school (ibid). This confirms past research findings about the existence of truancy in secondary school in some parts of England. Gray and Jesson (1990:25) gathered information on the incidence of truancy from the youth cohort survey of England and Wales. The result of their survey shows that 6% of final-year secondary school learners reported to have played truant for several days or weeks at a time. Malcolm, Wilson, Davidson and Kirk (2003:50) state as follows: ‘In 1999, the Audit Commission noted that at least 40,000 of the 400,000 learners absent from school are truanting’.
In a study done at 50 Scottish secondary schools, it was found that 30% to 33% of learners had been playing truant at least once in the survey week (Munn and Johnston, 1992:38). These schools were requested to provide both the overall attendance rate and the numbers of learners (ibid).
Haddon (1996:110), citing a comprehensive study conducted in Victorian secondary schools in Australia, states that 40% to 60% of learners of compulsory school age reported that they engaged in truancy. Cohen and Ryan (1998:12) state that about 10,000 learners in Tasmania play truant at least one day a week.
The research done at 36 schools in four Dutch cities indicates that the average level of truancy at all schools was 4.4% (Bos, Ruiters and Visscher, 1992:393). The average percentage of allowed absence was 4.7%, therefore suggesting that learners in most schools are just as often absent with a valid reason as without one.
It appears that truancy is a problem in American schools, although at varying levels. According to Black (1996:33), approximately 2,500 and 4,000 learners play truant on a daily basis in Pittsburg and Mulwaukee, repectively, while 300,000 of the 1.6 million students in Los Angeles are habitual truants. This shows that some learners stay absent without permission every day and that a day never goes by with a recording of 100% attendance. Truancy is so much of a concern that the Department of Education has prepared a manual that gives schools some guidelines on how to reduce it (United States Department of Education, 1996).
From January 2001 up to December 2002 there were 8,903 arraignments before local tribunals in connection with school absenteeism (Grech, 2002). This figure represents only the number of students who were absent from school without a valid reason on more than three occasions in the space of a month. It is a known fact that there are a number of pupils that systematically take three days off from school each month just for the sake that they use up their monthly absence allowance and knowing that in this way their parents would not receive a citation. Survey results issued by the National Statistics Office Malta on December 16, 2002 showed that overall absence rate from schools between September 25, 2000 and March 31, 20001, stood at 10.5 days per pupil. That included both absenteeism and authorized absence (such as those due to sickness). During this period, 657,604 pupil days were list to absenteeism, accounting for 8.9 per cent of the total pupil days. This reveals an increase of 5.2 per cent over the 1999/2000 scholastic year. Absences in government schools stood at 19.12 days per pupil whereas that of government dependent (church schools) and independent private schools was 5.76 days per pupil.
Some of the overseas researchers state that there is no difference in the levels of truancy reported for males and females (Gray and Jesson, 1990:26; Haddon, 1996: 110; Smith, M., 1996:226; Stoll, 1994:36; Whitney, 1994: 59). Recent research on truancy in the seven local education authorities reports that the numbers of learners in secondary school admitting truancy was almost equal for boys and girls (Malcolm et al., 2003:31). Coldman (1995:68) also states that the variation that exists in truancy levels of males and females is slight. It is, therefore, apparent that some research are in agreement with regard to the truancy levels of male and females learners.
Earlier research that was conducted in South Africa suggests that more males than females tend to play truant
Coldman (1995:68) warns against making assumptions and generalisations about the existence of gender differnce in truancy levels. He argues that observed findings might result from the fact that some schools have more males than females, particularly when one is dealing with a large sample.
What the above studies suggest about truancy levels of males and females is that the difference might be slight, if it does exist. Furthermore, observed diffrenences may be incfluenced by other variables, such as the enrolled number of male and female learners in a sample.
Serious truancy is said to be more prevalent in inner-city secondary schools in England (Gray and Jesson, 1990:36; Stoll, 1990:23). Munn and Johnstone (1992:4) also found that the Scottish school with the highest percentage of unauthorized absence was all in the inner city.
Coldman (1995:69) asserts that claims that truancy is a problem mainly experienced in inner – city schools are disputable, since another survey showed that the truancy level is high even in the suburban, rural and industrial areas of England. It may therefore be purely speculation, without much supporting evidence, to suggest that inner-city school experience higher levels of truancy. Hard evidence needs to be gathered, where possible, in order to verify the claim that inner-city experience higher rates of truancy.
According to some researchers, truancy levels also appear to differ from school to school, since they may be more prevalent in schools than in others (Blackm 1996:33; Bos et al., 1992:385; Gray and Jesson, 1990:26; O’Keefe and Stoll, 1995:12). It is therefore apparent that the levels of truancy seem to vary from country to country, and in some cases, also in terms of geographical locations within a city or town.
The literature indicates that blanket truancy is common in many secondary school and that, in some cases, learners play truant on a daily basis. The levels of blanket truancy can also vary according to regional locations within the same country. In the next section, the evidence regarding the level of post-registration truancy drawn from the literature will be discussed.
Very little information is given in the literature about national trends of post-registration truancy in countries where research on truancy was conducted. Most of the studies conducted in the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and some parts of Europe mainly appear to be either school-based or done on a small scale.
Gary and Jesson (1990:26) report that about 10% of the final-year secondary school learners in England admitted that they played truant during particular lessons. On the other hand, 6% of the learners were involved in blanket truancy, meaning that the rate of post-registration truancy was higher. Stoll (1990:23) conducted research at nine secondary schools and found that the rate of post-resgistration truancy was high at one the schools.
Smith, M. (1996:228) also found that the post-registration truancy figure was high in the 12 Hertfordshire school that took part in the research, even though attendance levels appeared to be good. According to Stokes and Walton (1999:88), 20% of the 1,379 learners in Grade 9 to 11 at five schools in Leeds admitted that they engaged in poast registration truancy.
According to Coldman (1995:31), about 15% of all truants go absent after registration and thoses learners do not all miss the same lessons. Kilpatrick (1998:31) found that the absence rate increased rapidly during the day and was highest during the afternoon. It is therefore apparent that learners are more likely to leave after being marked present in the register, and to skip some of the afternoon lessons. This research shows that learners may attend all morning lessons but decide not to return to class after recess.
Coldman (1995:31) asserts that truants miss lessons several times per week. Most learners commonly use the term ‘bunk’ when they refer to playying truant. At times, the word ‘skipping’ is used instead when learners are absent from school or lessons without permission. Learners can therfore ‘bunk’ certain lessons more than once per week. Some learners can be classified as occasiohal truants in the sense that they ‘bunk’ class aout ibce every two weeks or choose a different class each time Kilpatrick (1998:31).
There is also an opinion that truancy could start with a small number of missed lessons and escalte rapidly (Pasternicki, 1993:33). Research done at one secondary school in Austrialia shows that an improvement in attendance as shown in classs registers may be a change to post-registration truancy (Kilpatrick, 1998:33). This means that, if the registers does not indicate records of attendance during lessons, learners who engage in post registration truancy will be marked present as if they were in class for the whole school day. Learners may then come to school on a regular basis, but miss some lessons without being marked absent. One would then look at the register and think that attendance has improved when it has, in fact, changed to post registration truancy. What is evident thus far is that post registration truancy can easily develop into blanket truancy if it is not easily identified and appropriately managed and that when a register shows marked improvedment in attendance it may in fact be indicative of ‘hidden truancy’.
There are various ways of determining the lessons most learners are likely to skip. Some knowledge of the extent of truancy per subject is derived from research questions which asked learners to state their most favorite and least favorite school subject (Smith, M, 1996:231). Sometimes educators’ returns on discrepancies between the daily attendance sheet and actual in-class attendance are used (Kilpartrick, 1998:29). On the other hand, Bos et al. (1992:383) asked educators to complete a standard form to record the actual as well as the expected number of learners present per subject during lessons and used these data to calculate truancy percentages.
Survey results collected from eight schools in London, Liverpool and Manchester between 1985 and 1994 reveal that Mathematics and Science are lessons that are most frequently missed by both male and female learners (Le Riche, 1995:19). In a study conducted by Smith, M. (1996:231), Mathematics was considered the least popular subject and, in fact, ranked first among the most unpopular subjects. Mathematics and English were least favoured by learners in some schools in Leeds (Stoke & Walton 1999:90).
Recent research conducted in some secondary schools within the London Education Authority (LEA) indicated that learners play truant during certain lessons. However, the sampled subjects often make no mention of the particular school subject or lessons missed. For instance, Malcolm et al. (2003:33) state that learners skip lessons, but only gave the following answer by a learner: ‘Sometime when I’m at school I go to the first lesson but don’t go the second and third, if it’s boring and friends are leading me on at the time’. What the above quote suggests is that it may be difficult to determine particular subjects that learners are most likely to skip because learners also succumb to the influence of friends and boredom and may not always skip the same lesson.
Research shows that secondary-school learns in South Africa do engage in truant behaviour occasionally, and sometimes on a regular basis (Brown, 1998:298), although no figures appear to be reported about the real extent of post-registration truancy.
The information cited in this section of the literature review indicates that some secondary-school learners engage in post-registration truancy. It has also been found that post-registration truancy may go undetected or unrecognized, since truants do not all miss the same lessons (Coldman, 1995:31; Stokes & Walton, 1999:90). Post-registration truancy might even be higher than it is assumed to be. The data further show that learners are selective in the sense that they choose to skip some lessons for various reasons, which will be elaborated upon later in the next section.
Given the complexity of the way in which truant behaviour can manifest, it may be reasonable to suggest that attendance rates indicated in a class register should be viewed with caution, particularly when it comes to post-registration absence.
Some researchers stat that post-registration truancy is more common (Coldman, 1995:30; O’Keefe and Stoll, 1995:11; Stokes and Walton 1999:90; Whitney, 1994:59), although many truants engage in both types (Milner and Blyth, 1999:18). According to an earlier study of English secondary schools, 26% of the students admitted to their engagement in post-registration truancy, while 14% said they engaged in both types of truancy (Stoll, 1995:36). There is therefore an indication that a certain number of learners engage in both types of truancy in some schools.
In order to understand and manage the phenomenon of truancy better, the authorities need to know where truants spend their time when not attending school or lessons. Learners appear to engage in various activities while truanting. It was found that some watch television at home while not at school (Le Riche, 1995:25), and either remain in the school building or leave the school premises altogether when not attending lessons. According to Stokes and Walton (1999:89), 25% of the learners report that they went to their own homes or friends’ homes, while 45% kept their destinations secret by choosing the ‘other’ category. Given the figures mentioned above, it is possible that more learners spend time in homes watching television than assumed; some go to local shops or town’ while others engage in activities they will not easily disclose.
Research information collected from a group of schools indicates that existence of various types of truancy. Perhaps it would be possible to get some objective information about the destinations of truants from other classmates of friends instead of posing direct questions to those who admit to have played truant. It is evident that explaining the nature of truant behaviour is complex exercise particularly when it comes to post-registration absence.
What can be said about the phenomenon of truancy with reference to the literature is that learners can miss the whole school day or certain lessons and classes, or both. Further, skipping the whole school day or class could be ‘occasional’, thus concealing the extent of the problem. The extent of both blanket and post-registration truancy is further hidden when class registration is inappropriately done when period or lesson attendance records are not kept.
Many perspectives on factors that make learners play truant are based on images and certain assumptions researchers have about the learner. Carlen, Gleeson and Wardhaugh (1992:85) identified four of those perspectives. Each of them focuses on some researches’ theories about the main cause of truancy, as discussed in the section below.
According to this perspective, truancy relates to variously identified personality aspects of the learner (Carlen et al., 1992:85). Personality is defined as the individual’s psychological, physical and spiritual characteristics that determine his behaviour in contexts in which he finds himself (Meyer and Viljoen, 2003:11). Therefore, the contributing causes of truancy are intrinsic and located with the learner. Some of the personal attributes if truanting learners that have identified in the literature are the following:
In a South African study aimed at predicting truancy, Nel (1975: 125) found that truants tend to be more anxious and experience more stress related to frustration than non truants. It appears that this study is consistent with research finding where High School Personality Questions (HSPQ) test results revealed that truants are more sensitive and emotionally less stable than non truants (Malan, 1972: 147). This further confirms earlier research conducted among truants in England, which shooed that truants tend to be insecure and anxious (Tyerman, 1958:223).
The concept of anxiety is often associated with psychoanalytical theory. According to the psychoanalytical theory of Freud, reality anxiety is fear about the actual dangers in the environment (Meyer and Viljoen, 2003:61). In terms of this theory, truancy can be regarded as a response that a learner adopts in an effort to avoid a potentially anxiety provoking situation or event. A learner’s fear of a threatening situation at school makes him play truant. Truancy is therefore a flight response or defense mechanism. According to Gillis (1992:13), young people tend to use defense mechanisms when dealing with awkward situations, some of which are discussed in the next sections.
Poor social skills and a lack of confidence are also factors that contribute to truancy (Edward and Malcolm 2001:2). Lewis (1995:37) asserts that boredom, isolation and lack of friends may be pull factors that pull a learner off school. As stated in the previous chapter, pull factors are personal aspects within the learners, which may include shyness, a tendency to become easily distracted or bored, and perhaps an inability to make friends. It appears that an inability to cope with the demands of making friends triggers a strong impulse to escape from the anxiety – provoking situation, thus leading to truancy. This means that some learners respond to a socially challenging or emotionally threatening situation at school by playing truant.
Another school-based factor concerns bullying. Child psychologist, Lisa Padovani (2005) graphically sums up bullying as follows:
Bullying is the willful, conscious desire to hurt, threaten or frighten someone. It can be a single attack on a person by an individual or a group or may be a longstanding campaign. Verbal abuse, taunting, threatening looks, emotional badgering, physical attack and sexual harassment are all forms of direct bully. Bullying may also be indirect; for instance being ignored socially or the spreading of malicious gossip. Bullying therefore is not simply a conflict between children but a case of an imbalance of power. It is an unfair match between bullies who are physically, verbally or socially stronger than victims who are generally unable to defend themselves in the actual situation (p. 26).
The Clark Report (2005) reveals that this phenomenon ‘happened when teachers were not around to observe’ (p. 29), and the reporting such incidents entailed further retaliation by the aggressor. Fenech ties the issue to alternative cultures which clash ‘with the mainstream culture of the school’ (Bezzina, Camilleri Grima, Purchase and Sultant, 2002, p. 25), consequently constantly landing bullies in trouble with teachers and administration. Finding of Azzopardi and Bondin (1991) and Cassar (1997) reveal that students did not mince their words in admitting that they attended school merely to meet friends and have fun. They rebelled against stringent school rules, and consequently engaged in deviant acts like playing truant, drinking alcohol and smoking on the school premises, as well as bullying (Fenech, 1992).
Research indicates that certain personality traits, including lower levels of self-esteem, make some learners more prone to absenteeism than their peers Reids (2002:11). However, research conducted by Sommer and Nigel (1991:389) failed to show a link between truancy and low self esteem and to some extent confirmed results obtained earlier in South Africa, where truants studied by Malan (1972:147) tended to be more assertive and dominant than the population.
Cicourel and Kituse (cited in Gabb, 1994) look to the structure of relationship within school between teachers and pupils, how these progressively erode the self esteem of working class pupils and produce feelings of inferiority that, again, lead to delinquent behaviour. Ramsay (1983) claims that knowledge is being used as a form of social control. Behind the faA§ade of mathematics and English, he argues there is said to be a ‘hidden curriculum’ to keep working class children in their places.
Truancy is mentioned as one of the behaviours that are associated with conduct disorder (Sue, Sue and Sue, 1997:482). Conduct disorder is a diagnostic label used to describe children and adolescents who display a persistent and repetitive pattern of antisocial behaviours that violate the rights of others (ibid). Antisocial behaviours that an individual with conduct disorder displays include defying authorities, lying, fighting, cruelty to animals and people, as well as truant behaviour. Reid (1999:77) asserts that research shows that feelings of alienation from school and higher levels of anti-social behaviour are some of the characteristics displayed by many truants. This suggests that anti social behaviours make some learners more vulnerable to social alienation, in that an individual is likely to be rejected if his behaviour is socially inappropriate, and if he is disruptive. Therefore, a well behaved learner can easily make friends and suffer little isolation, and is more likely to cope with the stresses of schooling. The inability to cope with stresses of schooling, personality problems and social isolation are some of the factors that are identified as driving learners to play truant (Bimler and Kirkland, 2001:91).
Truants tend to perform poorly in examinations. Gray and Jesson (1990:26) state that, in England, secondary-school learners who admitted that they have once engaged in serious levels of truancy were likely to report low levels of exam performance.
Reid (2002:12) reports that regualr non-attendees are found among learners whose numerancy and literacy scores are two or more years behind their peers in primary school.
According to Le Ritchie (1988:78), a lack of academic success creates a sense of frustration and a constant fear of failure. It appears that learners who experinece difficulty with schoolwork often play truant in an attempt to evade frustration. In some cases, learners may have begun to experience difficulty with schoolwork while still at primary school. An inability to cope with academic expectations and demands can contribute to truancy in secondary schools.
Truancy appears to be a response to frustration and anxiety associated with difficult lessons. In many instances, lesson difficulty contributes more to post-registration truancy than blanket truancy (Hallam and Roaf, 1995:18; Kilpatrick, 1998:30). According to Smith, M. (1996:229), 80% of learners in a study conducted at twelve secondary schools
It is not enough to assume that learners have difficulty with schoolwork and play truant as a result, without investigating how investigating how they learn and process infrormation. Research information on cognitive style provides us with insight into how some truants learn.
Cognitive style is defined as a consistent and typical manner in which an individual organises and processes information (Riding and Read, 1996:81). There are two basic dimensions of cignitive style, namely the Wholistic-Analytical style, which indicates an individual’s preference for processing information either as a whole or in parts, and the Verbal – Imagery style, which shows a tendency to repesent information during thinking either verbally or in mental images (Rayner and Riding, 1996 :447). Rayner and Riding (1996 :447) conducted research on learners who have a condition that is known as school refusal. Learners who have such a condition refuse to attend school but stay at home when not in school, complain about headaches, stomach pains or nausea and show signs of anxiety and depression (Egger, Costello and Angold, 2003:1). In addition, such children tend to be complaint and well behaved, and, unliketruants, they stay at home with the parents; knowledge. Some children tend to display characteristics of both school refusal and trauncy (Egger et al., 2003:1).
Rayner and Riding (1996:447) undertooik a study on learners with school refusal and found that they also have a well-established history of truancy. The study revealed that these learners tend to process information holisticfally (ibid: 449). This reseach therefore indicates that the congnitive styles of many truants tend to differ from those of learners who are not ruants. Furthermore, an implication of the study is that if educators fail to accommodate the differnet cognitive styles in their teaching, escapist behaviour in the form of truancy is likely to occur.
There is a theory that proposes that truancy is caused by various aspects of the school (Carlen et al., 1992:86). This theory explains truancy as a response to an inadequate education system. It appears that this theory is based on the perception that the schools and the education system in general are lacking, and thus force some learners to reject the very education that is thought to give them a better future. Proponents and supporters of this perspective would therefore argue that what is happening in the schools and the education system in general is what actually makes learners became truants.
Inadequacies could be those located in the physical enviromnet, the school climate – in terms of the learing and teaching atmosphere – and the curriculum, if it is seen asw being irrelevant and not accommodating diversity. The perceived inadequacies in the school might alienate some learners and thus make them freel excluded annd became truants.
It is also possible that some learners may have certain attitudes towards aspects of the school such as the buildings, particular subject and educators. Learners may als perceive their value system as contradictory to the values espoused by the national curriculum and thus find that curruculum irrelevant. These contradicting values and attitudes towards the school can create a sense of disaffection that manifests in the form of truancy in some learners.
The various factors within the school that most reswearchers have identifed as contributing to truancy are discussed in the next section.
Reid (1999) states that ‘school refuters are sometimes pupils who have been threatened or bullied and are afraid to return to school … [bullied victims] ‘prefer to give other reasons for their absence to their parents and/or school rather than face the consequences of reporting the bullies’ (Pace, 2004, p. 6). On the other hand, children may be so worried about ‘tensions at home’ (ibid., p. 6) that they feign being bullied at school in an effort to draw attention upon themselves, in the hope of thwarting any unpleasant family plans that are rendering them anxious.
Child psychologist, Lisa Padovani (2205) graphically sums up bullying as follows:
Bullying is the wilful, conscious desire to hurt, threaten or frighten someone. It can be a single attack on a person by an individual or a group or may be a longstanding campaign. Verbal abuse, taunting, threatening looks, emotional badgering, physical attack and sexual harrassment are all forms of direct bulling. Bullying may also be indrect ; for instance being ignored socially or the spreading of malicious gossip. Bullying therefore is not simply a conflict between bullies who are physically, verbally or socially stronger than victims who are generally unable to defend themselves in the actual situation (p.26).
The Clark Report (2005) reveals that this phenomenon ‘happened when teachers were not around to observe’ (p.29) and that reporting such incidents entailed further retaliation by the aggressor. Fenech ties the issue to alternative culures which clash ‘with the mainstream culuter of the school’ (Bezzina, Cammilleri, Grima, Purchase and Sultana, 2002, p.25), consequently constangly landing bullies in trouble with teachers and administration. Findings of Azzopardi and Bondin (1991), and Cassar (1997) reveal that students did not mince their words in admitting that they attended school merely to meet friends and have fun. They rebelled against stringent school rules and consequently engaged in deviant acts like playing truant, drinking alohol and smoking on the school premises, as well as bullying (Fenech, 1992).
Truanting learners who show signs of having emotional problems relating to poor social skills receive individual and or group therapy (Dais, 1999:2; Harworth and Bardsley, 1999:163). According to MacIidowie (1999:122), attendance increased by 7% in two schools in Kent when the Education Welfare Officer’s intervention mesures included councelling sessions. Edward and Malcom (2002:2) assert that a learning eviroment that provides support for emotional and social needs is likely to raise the achievement of learners who are at risk of playing truant. The effect of this kind of support is evident in a study of a project at Swanley School, where MacIldowie (1999:123) reports that the attendance pattern of eight of the 12 learners improved significantly as a result of regualr support. It appears that individuals are likely to benefit from sessions where they listen to others with similar experiences and problmes. For instance, the Attendance Officer at Calhoun Intermediate School District reports that the dropout rate decreased by 10% to 2% when students became involved in the Absence Addict Programme, a support group that is modelled after Alcoholics Anonymous (Rocho, 2003:2).
It is important to mention that strategies and initiatives that are used at the level of the individual learners also impact on the school in general. The approaches that are discussed in this section mainly address issues pertaining to reducing the impact ofr school factors as a step towrds the management of truancy.
Data collected by Chircop (1997) shows that ‘rather than the students or their families, it is the school which is to blame’ (Sultana, 1997 p.357). Quoting Corrigan (1979), Willis (1977) and Reid (1985), she declares that students absent themselves from school so as to
Shelter themselves from what they consider to be an unpleasant experience … to challenge the value of schooling itself, and/or to repond to pressures arising from their particular situation as classed and gendered beings and to which the school is insensitive (ibid., p357).
The majority of disaffected students she interviewed attributed their non -a ttendance to the labelling processes prevalent in the Maltesed education system which encourages intra and inter school streaming. Selection ipso facto becames ‘an important function of schooling, [and failure, in turn, became inevitable,] since they are required by the system’ (Sultana, 1997, p. 359). This gives rise to the lowering of teachers’ expectations and a vicious circle sets in. Eventually, demoralised ‘students end up accepting the powerful labels used by teachers and think of themselces as [failures,] ignorant and incompetent’ (ibid., p.358).
Bencini (2002) claims that children are being forced to sit through a syllabus which is not suited for their personalities: ‘Instead of adapting our schools to students, we are trying to force students to adapt to our schools. WE need to provide students with things they enjoy doing (Zammit, 2003, p.7).
The purpose of the study is to investigate the phenomenon of truancy and then to characterize the nature and associated factors, to ensure appropriate management thereof. It is envisaged that, with more insight, effective intervention strategies can be implemented. Furthermore, secondary -education decision -makers may take results into account when school-attendance policies are reviewed.
The review of the literature presented in the preceding chapters reveals that secondary school learners continue to play truant and miss the educational opportunities provided by compulsory school regulations. Learners who play limit their own chances of acquiring the necessary skills to prepare themselves for future employment. We also looked at the different types of truancy , casual factors and various approaches that have been used to reduce truancy. This chapter describes the way the empirical study is planned and conducted, and will focus on the following aspects:
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