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'IT'S THE SEASON TO BE TRUANT.

Byline: By MOIRA SHARKEY AND LAUREN TURNER South Wales Echo

Parents who take their children out of school to go Christmas shopping are jeopardising their education. That is the view of education officials in Cardiff as more and more parents choose to take their children to the shops rather than their lessons.

Yesterday, the Echo spoke to half a dozen parents accompanied by their children - and half of the adults admitted they were out shopping.

Gordon Hyndman, senior education welfare officer for Cardiff council, said condoned absences were of major concern at this time of the year.

'It is a practice we discourage,' he said. 'While some parents believe that their children won't miss much or that lessons are winding down is not true. The fact is they are missing lessons.'

In October, the National Assembly failed to meet its eight per cent target for absenteeism for 2004, with 9.4 per cent of half-day sessions being missed.

In 2002 to 2003, 17,000 pupils were missing secondary school each day. Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said: 'Lessons and learning don't stop before the end of term and so pupils can lose out significantly if they are taken out of school.

'It also makes it extremely difficult for schools to tackle truancy and all the problems associated with it if parents routinely sanction absences.'

The law states children should only take time off school if they are ill or have leave of absence from the school for a particular reason, including celebrating a religious festival.

South Wales Police Inspector Chris Palmer said the number of officers patrolling the city centre doubled in the run-up to Christmas and that part of their job was to report truants to the local education authority.

'Parents who take their children out of school for no real reason are sending the wrong message,' he said.

'It is a fair assumption that some of these youngsters will, as they get older, believe it is acceptable to play truant with or without their parents' permission.': 'No excuses' for adults aiding truancy:City centre manager Paul Williams said there was no excuse for taking children out of school to go Christmas shopping. He said: 'It's a problem and it gets worse at this time of year. You see children of all ages, some accompanied and some not, and it gives out the wrong message because they should be at school.

'I have children myself and know there is plenty of opportunity for late-night shopping so there is no real justification for them not to be in school.

'It's not like term breaks up on Christmas Eve.

He said large groups of youngsters were also out in the city centre on their own during the day.

'There can be silliness, noise and disruption,' he said. 'But they draw attention to themselves because of what they're doing.' Mr Williams added there are more police officers on the streets in the run-up to the festive season who can deal with any problems the youths present.: Parents' reasons for missing school:The high street was like any weekend in the run-up to Christmas - filled with groups of youngsters and parents. Except this wasn't Saturday or Sunday but 11am on a Wednesday morning - when many of these children should have been in school.

So we took to the streets to find out why they weren't.

The first woman we approached in The Hayes was with her young daughter.

She said: 'She had to go to hospital. She's been very sick, she'll be at school tomorrow.'

On Queen Street a second woman who was with her son told us she was on her way with him to the orthodontist.

Next, one woman who was also with her son, said: 'He's allowed to be off, he had to go to hospital after being hit by a hockey ball.'

Another woman said her son had a dental appointment in the morning so had the rest of the day off.

Still on Queen Street, the mother of an 11-year-old boy admitted they were shopping.

'He booked the day off,' she said. 'It's nearly Christmas and he had free lessons. We're going away next week so we're doing Christmas shopping.'

The mother of a 13-year-old boy, also out shopping, said: 'I told the school he would be off but they didn't ask why.

'He didn't have any important lessons today.'

One woman, who was with a 10-year-old girl, said: 'Her mother would have made sure the school knew. 'I decided to take her into town as the others were going to a pantomime but she had already seen it.'
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 9, 2004
Words:777
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