THE region's truants will be swept off the streets and back into schools this month as the latest round of truancy sweeps were 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 these 177 were accompanied by an adult.

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

But it was an improvement on 2002 figures which showed that 610 truants across the North-East were netted.

Pupils out of school will have to give a good reason for their absence, otherwise they will be immediately returned to their schools.

Launching the fourth round of truancy sweeps nationwide, Education Minister Ivan Lewis said: "Truancy is a passport to life blighted by wasted opportunities, unemployment and even crime.

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

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