Despite the fact that most young people of school age in this country both attend school regularly and recognise the personal benefits to themselves of a sound education (e.g. O'Keeffe, 1994; Hughes and Lloyd, 1996), politicians and the media appear caught up in a moral panic about levels of non-attendance, its presumed link with delinquency, and young people's rejection of education (e.g. DFE, 1992a; Scott-Clark and Burke, 1996; Scott-Clark and Syal, 1996). While it is true that the immediate and longer-term consequences of missing extensive periods of schooling may be profound, exaggerating the scale and impact of the problem may also be counter-productive. On a national scale it is impossible to compare current attendance or absence levels with those of the past; the standards of attendance registration in British schools are such that there are 'no nationally usable statistics' (DES, 1989b) and no evidence of any significant deterioration in attendance levels (Reid, 1985). Human error and post-registration truancy (O'Keeffe, 1994) apart, we noted in chapter 1 the risk of attendance registers being 'rigged' to improve the pay of teachers and head teachers. The school's position in performance tables and its 'image' have replaced teachers' pay as incentives to present published attendance data in the most favourable light (i.e. redesignating ostensibly 'unauthorised' absence as 'authorised' absence). And even if we were confident of the accuracy of attendance data, overall absence levels reveal little useful information. A given absence rate could, for example, be indicative of a large number of pupils missing small amounts of school or a very small number of pupils permanently - or almost permanently-absent. However, for the pupils in the latter group, the consequences of truancy are grave.