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No hiding place for truants

SMS service shops school skivers

Mobile phones have a new function – stopping children playing truant from school.

Parents involved in a government-backed trial will be notified by text message if their children skive off. The scheme will be tested at Millfields Community School in Hackney, East London, where most parents already own mobile phones.

Teachers complete the attendance register on a mobile phone, clicking on all pupils who is absent. A text message is then automatically sent to parents.

"We have been working hard to reduce truancy levels and we are making a difference," said a spokeswoman at the Department for Education and Employment. "Any scheme which works to keep the teacher in touch with the parent has to make a difference."

The technology, called Citizen One, was developed by MaviCom and has the backing of BT Wireless, which made GPRS (general packet radio service) technology available for the trials.

"Education is obviously extremely important," said a spokesperson at BT Cellnet. "But another crucial point of the scheme is exploring the avenues of GPRS; [that is] its functions in society and the benefits to daily life."

The service also enables teachers to notify parents of late homework, school trips and other events. The next trials will be carried out in Leicester.

"The tests are in their early stages. Teachers have to get used to the technology, as do parents, but once it becomes a natural tool in the classroom we hope to see a fall in truancy levels," said a spokesperson at the DfEE.

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