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School chases truants by text

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A school in Bedford has become the latest outpost of the public sector to turn to text messages as the answer to all its problems.

Newnham Middle School in Bedford is buying Truancycall, an automated system that will notify parents by text and email if their kids forget to turn up at school.

The system is pitched not just as a solution to truancy and the evils it begets – watching schools programmes, drinking cider, spitting on shoppers' heads down the Arndale Centre – but also as a child safety measure, alerting parents that their child might be missing.

Should a little angel not be in class when they should be, the Windows-based system sends a text to the parent’s mobile, and an email. Parents can respond directly to the automated phone call, either with their own text or with a verbal message. This way, the company says, the school is not deluged by a mass of calls saying, “Don’t you idiots know there’s an outbreak of norovirus/it’s lambing season/it’s the summer holidays.”

Should the parent not respond, the system will call again an hour later. In fact, it will continue to call until 8pm.

The firm says that, strangely, a third of parental responses come in between 6pm and 8pm. This of course is when they’re either getting home from work or getting tanked up at Happy Hour. So, perhaps it’s really only a child safety measure two-thirds of the time.

More importantly, though, the school then has a stack of responses it can view or listen to, so that it can update its own information management system.

So, the school secretary is happy because she’s not on the phone all morning, the school is happy because its records are up to date, and the kids are happy cos they’re eating chips down the high street.

The only people who might not be happy are parents who don’t have email or a mobile, or who have jobs where they’re unable to answer their mobile phones – such as say, teachers? ®

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