The Truth of Student Truancy

A number of students will truant; we will follow up, and most of the time they’ll be internally excluded. They’ll miss more lesson time. I would suggest we’re doing exactly what they want.

Students truant because they don’t want to be in class, so giving them more time out of class seems counter-intuitive. Please don’t think a belittling a very complicated situation. It is very difficult to break the cycle of students wasting days/weeks/months/years through truancy, but we must. It takes commitment, from patient and skilled staff.

Truancy takes infinite forms; student’s will hone their approach based on the class environment. Sometimes they’ll choose to avoid going altogether, other times they’ll go into the lesson with the sole intention of getting ‘kicked out’. Getting ‘kicked out’ is less obviously avoidant, but let me explain why we must interpret in this way.

All the while a student is trying to get dismissed, they’re in control. They’re choosing how to disrupt, what to say, how to escalate. Whilst they’re causing havoc in your class, they feel in control.

It is the safest and most secure they feel. When you’re giving them work to do, they’re out of control. Their peers might catch onto the fact that they don’t understand the work, they might get laughed at.

As soon as you’ve finished at the board, check in with them first. Make a point of providing something you know they can get started on confidently.

boy walking alone

The list of potential dangers and anxieties goes on. So they’ll get sent somewhere else to complete a worksheet unsupervised, notching up the time spent away from your supervision. This behaviour is their mechanism for staying safe and protected.

I have worked with dozens of students who have articulated they try to get dismissed from class. I’ve also worked with dozens of different students who haven’t been able to articulate this, but it can be seen in the behaviour patterns they this is what they’re doing.

I would suggest approaching your most challenging students with bundles of positive energy, enthusiasm and care. Make a point of articulating how happy you are to see them. Ask them about what they have been up to, get to know them and show an interest. Ask these students to help you out and make a point of recognising how useful they have been. Notice them following instructions and reference it in class.

Cue them into class discussions by getting them to say something brilliant that they told you when you were discussing the work 1:1 with them. Say you’ll be back in 5 minutes to check in on them, and be back in 5 minutes. Be reliable, do as you’ve said you will do and they’ll develop trust for you.

We’re not patronising our students by being really positive and enthusiastic, we’re helping them to learn that they are capable and brave.

You might be concerned about the amount of time taken in class to get a student to engage/complete work. This is all part of being a teacher. We don’t choose the students we teach and we should teach with equal amounts of commitment and passion, even if our preference is to teach those who are less challenging. We need to give our students what they need, some need lots more attention than others.

“The students who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.”

This quote is absolutely spot on. Some students will press us, but never forget, they will change by all recognition if a dedicated adult has supported them through their struggles.   


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