Date of Award

1-1-2000

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Professor Max Angus

Second Advisor

Dr Brian Moon

Third Advisor

Professor Bernard Harrison

Abstract

Truancy is a product of socially constructed knowledge. The final product of this knowledge provides insight into the defining features of current societal beliefs, values and fears, becoming a powerful framing influence for definitions of acceptable patterns of school attendance and behaviour. In this sense, the perceived incidence of truancy within a community has far more impact on the creation and enactment of public policy associated with young people who do not regularly attend school than the incidence itself. This does not deny the incidence of truancy, nor the empirical data indicating correlates of truancy, illiteracy, crime, poverty and unemployment. Truants do exist. How these students and actions are perceived, however, and the consequences for all stakeholders (both personal and public) are constructed through the particular perceptions of youth, school nonattendance, and crime. The focus of this study was to identify the ways in which cultural factors have influenced popular and academic constructions of truancy, and subsequent creation and enactment of public policy associated with truancy. A model was developed for identifying the framing influences for public policy associated with any socially defined construct, directing the identification of three defining cultures for the framing of truancy. Ethnographic methods were used to 'read' the culture of compulsory education through the interactions and decision making processes within stakeholding institutions in Western Australia. Four education districts were included in the study, with a particular focus on inter-agency processes within one of these districts. Participation in and observation of the whole gamut of policy in practice within an education district allowed a demystification of the policy and practice associated with students who both reject or are rejected by the school system. Access to district databases provided non-attendance data for 30,000 students over the eighteen month period of the study. Less than two per cent of students were defined as chronic truants, of whom a disproportionate number were Aboriginal students. The proportion of students defined as at educational risk through chronic truancy was remarkably similar to the proportion of students excluded from their education through behaviour management processes, including the disproportionate number of Aboriginal students defined as violent and abusive. Although there was little indication of a gender difference in truancy patterns (except for the over representation of adolescent Aboriginal girls), the suspension and exclusion data show an overwhelming proportion of boys defined as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder reported by female teachers as evidencing major behaviour problems. Three cultures were identified as the major influences on the current framing of public policy associated with non-attendance. These cultures reflect community beliefs in punitive measures, a systemic reluctance to take responsibility for pedagogical and resource issues and perceptions of difference based on ethnicity and student behaviour. Such a framing of public policy associated with re-integration of recidivist offenders inevitably perpetuates a culture of social exclusion. There seems little chance for change in the production of public policy associated with these students within current community (and institutional) constructions of difference, responsibility and social justice. Re-framing cultures built on foundational beliefs, powerful public perceptions and images to reflect mediation, natural justice and cultural awareness is an enormous task for any community. However, such a shift in the framing influences for the creation of public policy would encourage the enactment of current legislative and regulatory frameworks associated with non-attendance to reflect inclusion and equity.

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