Stephen Clarke, Director, Truancy Call

Q Please describe the Truancy Call of the UK.

A Truancy Call in the UK provides a solution to the problem of contacting all parents on the first day of their child's absence. Something which the UK Government "strongly recommends" is undertaken in all schools. The system ensures that a school can undertake first day contact to all absent pupils, day after day AND can obtain a direct response from the parents. At the same time it does not require a new telephone system, additional phone lines or a new computer, as it operated from a secure Web browser.

It is simple to use. Once a pupil is identified as absent, they are marked as such and contact is automatically made with the parents of absent pupils the same day by phone and/or text message and email, in turn parents can respond in the same manner.

Q What made you think of this application and its use of Text-to-Speech?

A In the UK, Over 1,000,000 children are absent from school every year. On a typical school day there are 50,000 children who are not in school. Over eight million school days are lost across the UK each year.

Truants are more likely to be out of work, homeless and three times more likely to offend than non-truants. UK Government Research found that 75% of boys and 50% of girls who are truant just once a week have already committed offences. Truancy has costly effects to the police, courts, prisons and victims of crime.

At the same time the staff and resources to notify each and every parent are limited for a lot of U.K. schools. However, "first day contact" when operated by schools is proven to improve attendance. By automating the process using Truancy Call, schools have found that the time taken to notify parents is reduced significantly. Staff who were previously tied up on the phones all day contacting parents are now available to complete other tasks in the school.

The text-to-speech element of Truancy Call, was used in three elements of the outbound telephone call to parents: To deliver the school name, the parents name(s) and the child's name. Without this the parents would not know which school the call is for, whether it is for them and which of their children the call is regarding. It is therefore a crucial element to the telephone call.

Q How many systems are using the application and where are they located?

A At this time we have over 200 schools using the application, they are located throughout the United Kingdom. In the northern most point of Scotland, through to Northern Ireland and Wales.

In addition, during 2003 we are looking at expansion opportunities into other countries, as by the nature of the Web-based technology we are using the system can be operated world wide. In addition we can deliver a telephone call, text message and email to anywhere in the world.

Q Please discuss any results from the school systems detailing if the application assists in preventing truancies among students.

A We have many examples, and case studies can be seen on http://www.truancycall.com.

One particular school in Wales prior use to spent six hours a day making telephone calls to parents and even then in a lot of situations they were unable to make immediate contact with parents and calls would have to be repeated and carried over to the next day. They implemented Truancy Call which takes them just 30 minutes and repeats calls throughout the day and into early evening until the parents respond with a reason for their child's absence. In addition they have reduced absentees by 50%, and staff time has been released to allow them to deal with other responsibilities.

Q Why did you choose Rhetorical's Text-to-Speech?

A Two main reasons: First, it is one of the most 'natural' sounding text-to-speech in the marketplace and replaced our existing system which sounded very robotic and off-putting for the parents when they received the call. Secondly, we wanted the option of a variety of other 'voices' in line with other expansion plans and were pleased they already had American and Australian voices among others.

Q What is the type of voice being used in the application? Is one type of "voice" better in reducing truancy over another?

A In the United Kingdom we have found that the Scottish voice works the best. This ties in very much with current call center research in the United Kingdom that the number one accent people prefer is Scottish. In addition, a female voice has worked better than a male voice, this is perhaps because previously when the schools have done the calls themselves it is mostly been female members of staff making calls to parents.

Q How did the partnership with Rhetorical, Apcentia and C3 work? Who performed what tasks?

A C3 is a leading European supplier of Windows-based communications platforms for converged voice and data services. C3's Apcentia communications platform was designed for network operators, service providers, large-scale enterprises and public sector usage. C3 chose Rhetorical's text-to-speech technology as it is one of the most natural sounding and accurate on the market and is highly scalable and robust. The text-to-speech system used by Truancy Call is based on a 120 channel C3 Apcentia automated call handling system with a 30 channel Rhetorical text-to-speech server. The accuracy of the text-to-speech system was fundamental to Truancy Call, as the system has to accurately pronounce the names of the children.

Q Are there specific plans for introducing this application in the US?

A Truancy Call is available in the US right now and we are looking for early adopters who will receive preferential rates.

Q What is the pricing structure Truancy Call charges local school districts?

A Pricing varies dependent on the size of the school using the system and whether it is just one school buying or a number of schools bulk buying.

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