Parents living in localities within the harbour region, especially Cospicua and Valletta, top the list of persons charged in connection with absenteeism from schools. A total of 5,935 cases of school absenteeism were reported between 2009 and last year, according to statistics tabled in Parliament by the Education Minister.

Though parents guilty of such an offence could be liable to a €7 fine and an additional fine not exceeding €2.33 for each day during which the offence continues, it is not serving as a deterrent against truancy.

Eighty-eight per cent of some 37,000 fines dished out by local tribunals since the year 2000 have never been paid. The issue had also been raised by the head of the Cospicua Primary School during a public consultation meeting held last winter.

An analysis by regions, as defined in the census, would place the inner harbour region which comprises areas such as Cottonera, Ħamrun and Marsa on top with some 2,300 cases.

There are sharp discrepancies in this group, with Cospicua topping the list with 415 cases of truancy, followed by Valletta (360) and Ħamrun (278), whereas localities like Sliema (82) and Ta’ Xbiex (17) were bottom.

The lowest number of truancy cases were reported in Gozo (95) followed by the western region comprising Attard, Balzan and Rabat, with some 500 cases.

Next is the outer harbour region, with Qormi (330) and Birkirkara (316) placing first and second and Xgħajra (36) and Swieqi (30) at the bottom of the list.

The northern region recorded 638 cases, whereas the southeastern region had 780 cases.

Contacted by The Sunday Times of Malta, an Education Ministry spokesman said measures would be launched soon to target habitually absent students.

Asked whether the ministry was satisfied with the current level of enforcement, he said improvements were being explored by the Department of Educational Services, which was in talks with the relevant authorities.

Acknowledging the department was aware of the problem, he said efforts to tackle it have been made by recruiting support services, including counsellors, career advisors, psychotherapists, youth works, educational psychologists, prefects of discipline, social workers and social support workers.

“The team gives priority to habitually absent students and conducts a thorough assessment of each case referred to them with the aim of integrating the student back to school,” he said. This may also include home and school visits.

Social workers also attended tribunal hearings to assist the Commissioner when handing down judgments, he said.

“When parents turn up, social workers use this opportunity to initiate a working relationship with the parent with the aim of reducing the rate of absenteeism.”

Another measure launched in this scholastic year was to persuade long-term habitual absentees in Form 5, who had no intention of sitting for Matsec examinations, to follow an alternative curriculum tailored to their needs.

“Some 220 students out of 350 took up the offer and a new programme will start next September,” the spokesman said.

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