Risk Factors



Risk Factors


Types of Truant


Why do Kids Truant?


Categories of Truancy


Effects of Truancy

Risk Factors        

Risk Factors


Any child or adolescent can play truant.  Truant children/adolescents come from all societies of life - the rich, the poor, and the middle class.  However this being said, it tends to be students from low socioeconomic families that carry a higher risk of truancy.  The students with the highest rates of truancy are most likely to drop out of school.  Walls (2003 p2) finds that the peak age for truancy is fifteen.

Bell et al (Walls 2003, p2) states that “The relationship between income and truancy is not well established, but it is generally believed that students from lower income families have higher rates of truancy”.  Further, Baker et al.  (Walls 2003, p.2) has found students who truant are more likely to drop out of school completely.


Identifying students who are at risk from truancy is made easier by warning signs that parents, teacher, carers and friends can look out for.  The student may have a fear of school or dislike their teacher.  They may be experiencing difficulties with their schoolwork; they may be being bullied at school; have a physical disability or illness, or they may appear shy or lazy.  Truants may be extroverts or introverts.  Extroverts may enjoy the attention they get from truanting, or introverts may keep away from school to avoid attention.


(Reid 2003 p6) specifies “risk factors” in student’s lives that may make them susceptible to truant behaviour, including but not limited to:


  • Low social class

  • Boredom

  • Poverty

  • Deprivation

  • One parent families

  • Adverse home conditions

  • Free school meals

  • Unfulfilled needs

  • Disruptive behaviour

  • Bullying

  • Education failure

  • Suspension

  • Expulsion

  • Pupil victimization

  • Ignorance

  • Disaffection from school

  • Personality disorders

  • Delinquency

  • Maladjustment

  • Juvenile crime

  • Young offenders

  • Underachievement

  • Illiteracy

  • Reading difficulties

  • Numeracy problems

  • Low levels of general self-esteem

  • Low academic self-concepts

  • Low long-term career aspirations

  • Group and gang activities, outside of school

  • Vandalism

  • Inner city schools

  • Rural areas

  • Truancy syndrome (mother/father, grandparents who were truants).

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Walls (2003 p2) observed two types of truants - those who miss single classes and those who miss full days.  (Reid 2000 pp 39-40) has analysed further, establishing four types of truants - Traditional or Typical, Psychological, Institutional, and “Generic” truants.


The Traditional Truant comes from a supportive home, and may be introverted, tends to be shy, has a low self concept of themself and could be a victim of their social circumstances.  They are often aware of the limitations in school and social areas and will seek compensation by insulting themselves.  They are pleasant students to talk to and would rather conform than be involved in a confrontation.


Psychological Truants are generally students that have an illness or are lazy.  They may have a fear of attending school, or dislike the lesson or teacher.  They may be bullied or handicapped and throw tantrums.  These students need counselling to overcome their fears.


Institutional Truant avoid attending school for many reasons.  They may be extroverts and enjoy confrontation, these truants may remain on the school grounds but not in class.  They generally truant as a spur of the moment decision and they will select the days and lessons that they do not attend.  They have a high self concept of themselves and have many friends.  The often come from unsupportive homes and are not concerned with getting into trouble.


Generic Truants fail to attend school for a variety of reasons.  They often have symptoms from all four of the categories.  (Reid 2000 pp 39-40)


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Why do kid’s Truant?


There are a variety of reasons why children truant.  Most students say that they are bored or feel disengaged at school, however more than likely there is a deeper reason for why they truant.  Truancy often is caused by the child’s socioeconomic background, social and emotional development and factors including home and school life.


Some reason for truancy may include but is not limited to:

  • The parents many not be aware of the requirements of the law and attendance of school.  Therefore they may note enforce and emphasize the importance of attending school.  Education Act (www.decs.sa.gov.au/speced2/default.asp?id=13354&navgrp=200)

  • The parents may have had bad school experiences themselves.

  • They may have older siblings or parents that are or were truants themselves.

  • The family, especially the parents may have poor literacy and numeracy skills, and the school that their children attend may not have the same values as their culture (They may not want their children, especially their girls to become too affluent and gain knowledge about the world for fear of not being able to marry off their daughters).

  • The family may have financial difficulties so the children have to work to earn money for the family.

  • They family may have difficulty affording school costs like uniforms, books, school fees etc and not know where to go to obtain financial help. 

  • The family may experience difficulties in obtaining day care and transport.

  • The truants may have to stay home to look after ill parents.

  • The truants may be parents themselves (teen pregnancies), having to stay at home to look after and support their own children. 

  • The truants may come from the “wrong side of town” where truancy is seen as a way of escaping and the norm in life.

  • Immigrants may have to attend school with children much younger than they are.

  • The children may not have had the appropriate vaccinations to allow them to attend school.

  • The parents may not have the capacity to care for their child and ensure that they attend school.

The following paragraphs discuss the broad reasons why students truant and the categories of truants.  Teacher and other professionals can use the types of truants and the broad reasons why they truant and the categories of truants as guides or warning signs to watch out for in regard to students that may be about to truant.


(Baker et al  2001, p4) says there are four broad reasons as to why students truant.  They are Family Factors, School Factors, Economic Influences and Student Variables.


Family Factors.  Theses include lack of guidance or parental supervision, domestic violence, poverty, drug or alcohol abuse in the home, lack of awareness of attendance laws, and differing attitudes towards education.


School Factors.  These include school climate issues – such as school size and attitudes of teachers, other students and administrators - and inflexibility in meeting the diverse cultural and learning styles of the students.  Schools often have inconsistent procedures in place for dealing with chronic absenteeism and may not have meaningful consequences available for truant youth (e.g., out-of-school suspension). 


Economic Influences.  These include employed students, single-parent homes, high mobility rates, parents who hold multiple jobs, and a lack of affordable transportation and childcare.


Student Variables.  These include drug and alcohol abuse, lack of understanding in attendance laws, lack of social competence, mental health difficulties, and poor physical health (Baker et al 2001, p4).


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As we have stated earlier under the broad reasons why kids truant (Reid 2000, pp 23 -29 and 34-37), it is suggested that there are a few categories of truancy.  They are more generalised and include specific lesson absence, post registration truancy, parental condoned truancy, blanket truancy, psychological absence and school refusal or school phobia.


Specific Lessons Absence is where students truant due to a dislike of a certain lesson or teacher.  This is a trend that is on the increase.  It is more common in certain schools and years.  Some of the examples of lessons that are commonly missed are mathematics, English, science and languages.  Lessons-absence is related to the quality of the teaching and the teacher attitude and abilities.


Keys to tackling specific lessons absence :


  • Work on building good student teacher relationships.

  • Provide subjects that students see as relevant or cover areas that the students will find interesting as well as the more academic areas. 

  • Integrate technology into the classroom (using computers, different types of media)

  • Deliver lessons in a variety of ways

  • Mix hands on tasks with structured desk work.

  • Provide a variety of tasks for all skill levels.

  • The governments need to look at bringing back technical colleges.

  • Improve quality of teaching with smaller class sizes and more resources.

Post registration truancy is similar to specific lesson absences.  The difference is that specific lesson absence is where students miss lessons week on week.  Post registration truancy is where students register as being at school and then skip school.  In specific lesson absence, students miss lessons where they do not respect the teacher.  Post registration students miss many classes on different days for many reasons.  It is often done on the spur of the moment.  This tends to be the truancy that takes place in schools.


Post registration truancy is often related to the teacher’s attitudes and personal conduct.  For example if the teacher is late to the lesson they are not setting a good example to students.  It may make them feel that they are disliked. 


Keys to tackling post registration truancy


  • Take class roles regularly

  • Have set seating within the classroom

  • Have a buddy system where students keep tabs on one another

Parentally Condoned Truancy is the single cause of non-attendance at school.  It occurs in primary school as well as high school.  It is higher among girls than boys and is especially so in high school/ teenage years.  It is linked to maternal protection issues where there is violence in the family.  Parents will use it as an excuse to cover ‘genuine’ truancy cases.  It has been linked to children helping with house hold chores (shopping, helping with elderly relatives, handicapped siblings).  It may be children pretending to be sick to miss school or escaping bullying.


It occurs in the form of a ‘sick note’ and can be difficult to detect and manage.  It is common in ethnic house holds where children are used to overcome language difficulties, for example visits to social security/Centrelink.  Sometimes the families send their children on a visit to the country of their origin, so the parents cover for them.  Their parents do not wish their daughters to become too educated as they may rebel against arranged marriages.  Parents don’t want their children to lose their culture or become subject to racial victimisation.


Parentally condoned truancy is a topic of much debate as the parents have actually condoned the child missing school.  The parents may need company, want the child home to help with chores or protect them in abusive situations.


Parentally condoned truancy is where the parent is aware of the child’s absence but does nothing about it (does not want to or can not make the child attend).


Keys to tackle parentally condoned truancy


  • Find out what the problem is and offer support to the students (and if appropriate point out options for the parents)

  • Keep an eye on the students well-being.

  • Have regular contact with the family.  Observe other sibling in the school to see if they display any of the same signs.

Blanket Truancy is where the child fails to attend school and lacks the authorisation.  That is, they don’t have a note from the parent explaining the absence so that it can be authorised by the class teacher or principal.  (Schools expect notes for absences of half or full days off school.  In the case of a visit to the dentist however, they do not ask for notes when a child misses a lesson or leaves after registration at school.  They should!).


Psychological Absence, sometime called ‘near truancy’ is where the child attends school but does not participate in the lesson.  They switch off and show withdrawn behaviours.  They avoid contact with the teacher or don’t acknowledge what the teacher asks them to do.  Some of the pupils appear to be on task but are actually doing nothing or something unrelated to the task.  Some students appear to be focusing on their work but are really thinking about something else (what they are having for lunch, a football match).  They may do it as an attention-seeking device.


Keys to tackling psychological absence.


  • Find out why they avoid doing the work (it could be a visual or hearing difficulty or it may be something much deeper).

  • Have small groups work on the floor, pair up students that stay on task with ones that tend to drift off task.

  • Provide support for their behavioural needs.

  • Expect active participation form all students within the classroom in whatever activity is being undertaken.

  • Deliver lessons where students develop and use both oral and written skills to involve all their senses in learning.

School Refusal or School Phobia.  School refusal is a result of anxiety due to tests or exam anxiety.  It is also related to intelligence; parents pressuring students to perform and the students suffering from anxiety due fear of failure and parents' expectations.  School refusal is often found in students whose parents have high powered occupations.


Keys to Tackling School Refusal


  • Students suffering from school refusal need to seek counselling to help deal with the issues causing their fears.  This may also apply to the parents.

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Effects of Truancy


“Truancy is an early warning sign for future problems and should not be ignored … Left unchecked, truancy is a risk factor for serious juvenile delinquency.  Truancy’s impact also extends into the adult years where it has been linked to numerous negative outcomes.” (Baker et al, 2001, p1).


Some of the ways truancy effects development


  • Truancy effects students learning and social development.  When they are away from school they become disengaged with the school and fail to benefit from the skills and knowledge taught in the class as well as the interaction with other students and the teacher. 

  • There’s also the danger that if the student misses too much school they may find it too difficult to catch up to the rest of the class and may drop out.

  • If the truancy remains un-detected the truancy may be ongoing throughout the child’s life and develop into adult truancy, impacting on their adult lives

Some of the ways truancy effects learning


  • When they are not at school they are becoming disengaged with the school and learning environment thus not learning the required skills and information.

  • If they truant from particular lessons or teachers there will be gaps in their knowledge.

  • Truancy impacts on the other students in the class as the teacher recovers work to catch the truant student/s up.

  • When truants are not at school they are not learning the skills necessary to complete their education and enable them some choice in where they work and stability in their life as adults.

Some of the ways truancy effects Teaching


  • Due to students truanting it is necessary to try and catch them up in their work and ensure that they don’t have gaps in their knowledge.  This is difficult as the time spent doing this takes up time when the class could be covering new skills or topics.

  • It affects the dynamics in the classroom - students and teachers not trusting one another as well as the students not trusting the truant student.

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Truancy not only immediately affects the student at school and in their home lives; the effects can also follow into adulthood.  Truant students end up breaking the relationship with their teacher, so that it becomes a constant battle with the teacher and student – to catch them up when they are at school.  If the parents are aware of the truanting it can begin to break down relationships in the home, adding stress to the family.  Students fall behind in their work due to time missed from school and often drop out of school, leaving them with a very limited education and job prospects - this could include difficulty of obtaining and holding down a job and poor relationship skills.


Sheldon Rothman stated that “Regular attendance is often seen as an important factor in school success.  Students who are chronic non-attendees receive fewer hours of instruction; they often leave education early and are more likely to become long term unemployed, homeless, caught in the poverty trap, dependent on welfare, and involved in the justice system.  High rates of student absenteeism are believed to affect regular attendees as well, because teachers must accommodate non-attendees in the same class.  It has been suggested that chronic absenteeism is not a cause of academic failure and departure from formal education, but rather one of many symptoms of alienation from school.  Chronic absenteeism, truancy and academic failure may be evidence of a dysfunctional relationship between student and school, suggesting that schools need to be more student-centred and supportive of students with different needs.  This argument is supported by research that highlights significant associations between student background factors, poor attendance, and early school leaving.” (Rothman S, 1999.)


Reid states “Truants engage in meaningless activities while away from school.  Some are even board, finding it difficult to while away the time.  Many truants privately admit that if they had their time over again they would never start truanting … there is increasing evidence that some truants spent their time engaging in fringe activities such as drug taking, prostitution, joyriding, violence, watching video nasties and participate in organised crime.” (Reid 2000, p2).


Whilst away from school many truants are bored and often engage in meaningless activities.  Truancy was generally believed to be an activity undertaken alone, however it seems to be and activity undertaken more frequently in groups.  Girls tend to spend time in a private home or in town centres where they engage in activities such as gossiping, smoking and drinking.  Boys spend time in town but also in the outdoors, fishing, playing football and hiding out so they can drink and smoke.


“One estimate is that group truancy accounts for roughly 70 to 80 percent of cases, with the remainder truants spending time on their own.  The evidence also shows significant differences between boy and girl truant groups and how they spend their time.  Girl groups of truants often focus their activities within a person’s home or in town centres.  Male truants will also spend their time in groups in town, but they are more often to be found outdoors – perhaps fishing, playing football, or hiding away out of sight in order to smoke and/or drink alcohol.  Girls truancy groups also contain a high proportion of smokers.” (Reid 2000, p2).


“Several studies have established lack of commitment to school as a risk factor for substance abuse, delinquency, teen pregnancy and dropping out of school.” (Bell Rosen and Dynlacht, 1994; Dryfoos, 1990; Huizinga, Loeber, and Thornberry, 1995, Rohrman 1993) (Baker et al 2001, p2).


It has been found that truancy can lead to the involvement in unacceptable behaviour such as criminal activity, alcohol and drug abuse and teen pregnancies.  In one study titled “Against The Odds”, girls found that it was easier and more acceptable to truant than to go to school.  They formed networks where it was ‘safe’ to ‘hang out’ and it was away from the taunting and name calling suffered at school.  The girls believed that the teachers only cared about the high achiever so they gave up trying.  This situation relates to social learning theory due to their feelings towards school and seeing their peers truanting. 


“The network becomes, for some, a preferred option to the other more conformist activities and occupations.  As long as there ‘always someone to hang out with,’ there is a viable alternative to schooling …..  Some believe that their teacher only cares about the high achievers, so give up trying ….  Sixteen year old Nola describes a typical Friday night “go to the bottleo [sic], get alcohol and go and find somewhere to drink - and get blind” (Bottrell, D 2000)


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