12 Aug 2015

Truancy crackdown: number of parents taken to court rises

The number of parents being prosecuted for their child missing school is on the rise, with thousands facing action last year.

New figures show a growing number of parents are being convicted of truancy offences, being fined and in some cases being sent to prison.

Last year a total of 16,430 people in England were prosecuted for failing to make sure their child attended school. This is up a quarter on 2013 when 13,128 people were taken to court.

The spike in parents facing prosecution comes after a crackdown on truancy was introduced in 2013 by then-education secretary Michael Gove. Mr Gove implemented tough rules on parents taking their children out of school during term time.

‘Exceptional circumstances’

Under the changes, head teaches were told they could only grant leave in “exceptional circumstances” whereas before they could grant up to 10 days of leave in “special circumstances”. Fines of £60 per child who does not have permission for term time leave, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days, were also introduced.

This means those who fail to pay the fine are taken to court and face a maximum fine, if convicted, of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show the number of fines handed out by the courts rose by 30 per cent between 2013 and 2014. Last year 9,214 parents were issued with fines and 74 per cent of those were found guilty. On average, they were ordered to pay £172.

In total 18 people were given custodial sentences last year, including four men and 10 women, where figures were available.

While the threat of jail highlights the seriousness of the issue, parenting group Netmums says truancy is also a complicated issue and families may need professional support rather than court action.

Rachel Burrows, from Netmums, said: “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.

School should set ‘high expectations’

“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.”

Ofsted said school attendance is vital to a child’s education and it is the parent’s and the school’s responsibility to ensure a child does turn up.

An Ofsted spokesman said: “Attendance in schools is of the utmost importance to Ofsted and is something that inspectors look at during all school inspections.

“Pupils who are truanting are not only missing out on their education, but are also at risk of harm. It is therefore right that schools should set high expectations for parents and pupils when it comes to attendance and that Ofsted should inspect this.”