School truancies lead to rise in prosecution of parents

Aug 11, 2015 by


The number of parents taken to court in England because of children skipping school rose sharply last year, official figures show.

In 2014 16,430 people were prosecuted for failing to ensure their children went to school, an increase of more than 3,000 – or 25% – on 2013.

Ministry of Justice figures, obtained by the Press Association, revealed more than three-quarters were found guilty.

Head teachers’ leaders said good attendance was “absolutely critical”.

Crackdown breakdown

The rise follows a crackdown on children missing school, including new rules on term-time holidays, which were introduced two years ago.

The 2014 figures, gathered in a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice, show:

  • 12,479 people found guilty of truancy offences – up 22%
  • 9,214 fines, averaging £172, issued by courts – up 30%
  • 18 jail sentences in 2014 – compared with seven in 2013
  • Ten of those jailed and more than half (58%) of those fined for a child missing school were women

Parents can be issued with on-the-spot penalty notices of £60 per child by schools, rising to £120 if unpaid after three weeks, if their child has an unauthorised absence.

Failure to pay, or incurring two or more fines, can lead to parents being referred to the local authority’s education welfare service, which has the power to take them to court.

Courts can issue maximum fines of £2,500 or jail sentences of up to three months.

Unauthorised holidays in term-time are no longer acceptable under rules introduced two years ago

“Good attendance is absolutely critical to the education and future prospects of young people,” according to Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

“Schools have rightly responded to this overwhelming evidence by taking a strong line in identifying when children are absent without a valid reason, particularly where there is persistent truancy.”

‘Complicated issue’

But David Simmonds, of the Local Government Association, said the increase in fines reflected “tighter enforcement by schools that are under pressure from Ofsted to meet attendance targets”, as well as a rising school population.

He called for more flexibility in the rules to allow heads to take account of family circumstances where absence was unavoidable.

They “should be trusted to make decisions about a child’s absence from school without being forced to issue fines and start prosecutions in situations where they believe the absence is reasonable”, he said.

Rachel Burrows, of the parenting website Netmums, said a fine or threat of jail could be enough to make parents understand the seriousness of their child missing school.

However, she warned: “Long-term truancy is a complicated issue and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

“In many cases, the family may be in crisis or face issues such as a parent with mental health problems or addictions. In these cases, fines or jail won’t help, as the mum or dad needs professional support to turn their lives around and be a better parent.”

Mr Trobe advised parents struggling to stop their children playing truant “to talk to their school to work out a solution”.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, which has produced guidance on truancy, said fines and sanctions should be a last resort.

“Persistent and extended absence must be tackled by schools with support and dialogue first,” he said.

“Equally, though, government must do what it can to support families. Cutbacks to essential services can increase the barriers to attendance.”

Source: School truancies lead to rise in prosecution of parents – BBC News

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