Truancy

Introduction

In early 1999 the NSW Government announced two measures to address the ongoing problem of truancy: "Operation Roll Call" and "Street Sweeps". The aim of these strategies was to extend existing local joint initiatives between NSW Police and the Department of Education and Training (DET). 

History

Since the introduction of the Home School Liaison (HSL) Program in 1987, NSW Police and DET personnel have participated in a variety of joint initiatives to address truancy.  These initiatives included home school liaison officers and police attending shopping centres, parks and amusement arcades to conduct what are known as "street sweeps".

Initiatives involving schools in specific educational districts and police regions have been developed where students wishing to leave school during the day are issued with leave passes.  These passes are then able to be checked by general duties police and HSL officers who have approached students who are apparently of school age and found absent from school during normal school hours.  These officers then provide the relevant schools with the names of students from their school that had been found outside school without a leave pass.  On some of these occasions the students involved may be accompanied back to school by these officers, if they believe the student will not return of their own volition.

Operation Roll Call

This program, of leave passes for students, provided the impetus and foundations for Operation Roll Call.  Operation Roll Call is a statewide initiative, which requires government secondary schools to issue leave passes when students are absent from school between 9am and 3pm. The aim of the program is to protect students from harm, reduce the amount of crime committed by school-aged juveniles during school hours and reduce truancy.  Operation Roll Call requires general duties police officers to address truancy issues in the course of their routine duties.  Under the program truancy is defined as:

the absence from school of a student who is of or above the age of 6 and below the age of 15 years, without the consent of parents or caregivers, during the hours of 9am and 3pm, Monday to Friday during school terms.

The Legislation

The Education Act 1990  provides for the development of this program.  Under this Act students, of or above the age of 6 and below the age of 15 years, are required to be enrolled at a government or registered non-government school, or be registered as home schoolers with the Board of Studies. 

The legal responsibility for ensuring that students attend school each day and that their school is open rests with the student's parents or caregivers.  Students are not required to attend school in New South Wales if they:

  • are unable to attend because of sickness, danger of infection, infirmity, misadventure or an unforeseen event;
  • are enrolled at school in another State or Territory;
  •  have been granted a Certificate of Exemption by the Minister for Education;
  • are fulfilling the requirements of a registered correspondence school or are participating in a program approved by the Minister for Education;
  • are registered with the Board of Studies as a home schooler; or
  • have been expelled or suspended from school.

The Act requires all schools to maintain records of enrolments and daily attendance of students.  Under Section 122 of the Act, uniformed police officers and HSL officers are authorised to approach students who are apparently 6 years old or above and under 15 years and not at school between the hours of 9am and 3pm.  Under Operation Roll Call students should be asked to produce their leave pass, which will be issued by their school for acceptable absences. The Act also authorises these officers to ask the student for their name and address and the name and address of their school. 

Once this information is obtained the officer may:

  • accompany the student to school or home to verify this information; or
  • direct them to return to school; or
  • allow the student to continue with their business if the enquiries of the police have been satisfied and it has been proven that the student has approval to be absent from school.

The Act does not define truancy as an offence committed by the students, nor does it authorise the arrest, detention or physical restraint of students.

Care and Protection

One of the primary concerns in addressing the issue of truancy is the protection of students from the risk of becoming victims of crime, while not under the supervision of their school.  Police speaking to students in relation to suspected truancy incidents will also consider whether the student is at risk of abuse or in need of care. Standard practices, as outlined in the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act1998 and related policies, will be adopted in the course of questioning a student about school attendance, if it becomes apparent that the student is at risk of being abused or neglected.

Section 43 of the Children and Young Persons  (Care and Protection) Act 1998 provides police with powers to remove a child or young person if at immediate risk of serious harm.

Relationship to the Children (Protection and Parental Responsibility) Act 1997

The Children (Protection and Parental Responsibility) Act1997 currently applies to the geographical areas of Ballina Island, Moree, Coonamble and Orange.  Police should not direct a student in these areas to return to school unaccompanied if they are at risk.  Students at risk under this Act are defined as:

  • being in danger of being physically harmed or injured; or
  • being in danger of abuse (including assault and sexual assault, ill treatment and exposure to behaviour which may cause psychological harm); or
  • about to commit an offence.

Any student at risk, to whom this Act applies, who is found to be absent from school between the hours of 9am and 3pm and not in the company of a parent or responsible adult is to be taken home and left in the care of an appropriate person, as required under the Act.

Student Leave Passes

The Department of Education and Training requires all government secondary schools to implement a leave pass system for students wishing to leave school during school hours.  Schools participating in Operation Roll Call are further required to maintain records about the pass. Student leave passes should contain details on the school, the date, time and date of expiry, and be signed by the school principal or nominee.

Schools are also required to provide appropriate identification for students undertaking work experience or following a flexible school timetable.  These students, along with students on teacher supervised excursions, are not required to be issued with a leave pass.

Police Responsibilities

Police should approach students who are not in school premises during school hours and ascertain if they have a student leave pass or work experience/flexible student identification.  Police may also approach students who are accompanied by an adult who appears to be their parent or caregiver, however, in such cases, police officers are advised to use their discretion.  Students found outside school premises without passes or identification will be accompanied back to school or their home by the police officer, or directed to return to school.  Students aged 15 years or older will be directed to return to school.

If a student is identified as being wanted by the police, normal police processes for dealing with juvenile warrant offenders will be implemented.

Police should only transport students back to school or home in police vehicles if they are:

  • at risk as defined in the Children (Protection and Parental Responsibility) Act 1997 or the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998; or
  • there is compelling evidence to suggest that in the absence of such a response, the student might come to some harm.

Police will provide the names of students found to be outside school premises without leave passes to the relevant schools. Where the school advises police that a notified absence has been found to be legitimate the police will not record it.

Verifying Information

Police who find students outside school premises during school hours without passes/identification who claim to be enrolled at a school in another school district will request the student's name, address, telephone number and the name of the school before contacting the student's home or school to verify the information.

Similarly, police will verify the information provided by students who claim to be home schoolers by contacting the student welfare consultant at the Department of Education and Training district office.

Students approached by police under the terms of this program who claim to be 15 years of age or older may be requested to provide proof of age.  Alternatively, police may contact the student's school or home to verify the student's age.

School Responsibilities

Schools have responsabilities that includes notifying parents/caregivers should a student be found outside school premisis without a leave pass. Schools should also provide counseling or manage disciplinary measures.

Police may participate in interviews between school principals and the student when an offence has been committed by the student whilst they were truanting.  In cases where no offence has been committed the Youth Liaison Officer (YLO) may be invited to attend the interview if HSL personnel deem it to be appropriate.  Attendance at these interviews will only occur where operational police priorities permit.

Data Keeping Requirements - Police

Police are required to record incidents to which they respond whether or not an offence has occurred.  This information does not constitute a criminal history.  NSW Police does not provide information relating to truancy to anyone other than home school liaison officers or other authorised Department of Education and Training personnel.

Education

Schools will maintain a register of students found to have been out of school without a leave pass by police and home school liaison officers.  District student welfare consultants will collect this information from schools.

Conclusion

The Government's commitment to reducing truancy requires NSW Police to implement the procedures outlined above and in the Operation Roll Call Protocols.  NSW Police takes these responsibilities seriously and remains committed to implementing strategies that reduce truancy.