THE region's truants will be swept off the streets and back into schools this month as the latest round of truancy clampdowns is launched.

For the next three weeks, teams of police and education officers will patrol the North-East's streets, shopping centres and known truancy hotspots.

During the last round of truancy sweeps, last May, the North-East teams challenged 1,513 young people and more than a third - 564 - did not have a valid reason to be out of school and, of those, 177 were accompanied by an adult.

The sweeps showed that the problem was worse in North Tyneside, where 123 truants were caught.

But it was an improvement on last year's sweeps, during which 610 truants were caught across the North-East.

Launching the fourth round of truancy sweeps nationwide, Education Minister Ivan Lewis said pupils found out of school will have to give a good reason for their absence - otherwise they will be immediately returned to their schools.

He said: "Truancy is a passport to a life blighted by wasted opportunities, unemployment and even crime.

"At a time when half of all children are achieving five or more good GCSEs, only eight per cent of persistent truants achieve this standard."

He threatened that parents allowing their children to play truant would be prosecuted.