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Monday, 16 December, 2002, 10:01 GMT
Should heads fine parents over truancy?
Parents of truanting children could be issued with fixed penalty notices, similar to parking tickets, under new government plans.

Head teachers could be given the right to fine parents in proposals expected to be announced by Education Secretary Charles Clarke.

The idea is to address truancy figures which haven't improved over the last year. Spot checks have shown many children skip school every day with their parents' permission.

As well as fines, parents could be required to attend classes to improve their parenting skills and sign contracts committing them to certain responsibilities.

The National Union of Teachers says chasing fines would take too long and that legal powers should remain with the courts, and not head teachers.

Will giving heads these powers damage the role they play in supporting children and parents? How else can the truancy problem be addressed? Will fines simply punish troubled families?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

As a school governor, I am aware of some of the issues in this proposal. What gives me most concern is that school staff are often subject to threats, and in some cases violence, from parents of children who have been disciplined in school for a whole range of bad behaviour. There is a huge correlation between the subset of school children who misbehave and those who truant. Can you imagine what heads will be subject to from these parents if they impose fines?
Keith, UK

Surely we should be looking at the reasons and causes why pupils are playing truant. Often it can be for such reasons a bullying or low-self esteem. Fining parents is not going to help these children.
M Chapman, UK

When is the government going to start fining MP's every day they fail to turn up? And are TB and IDS going to issue and collect the fines?
Alf Read, UK

We need a wholesale rethink of Education

Sarah Savill, England
Yet another Blair Soundbite. This idea is impractical, unworkable and down right wrong. Society has a duty to encourage children to want to participate in the Education process. There will always been some hardcore cases who won't what ever but so much more could be acheived if the Education these children received was relevant to them. Bring back the concept of Secondary Modern Schools, even if they are all part of one campus with a more academic school. Society badly needs builders, joiners, plumbers etc, surely some of these children would enjoy more practical work to enable them to learn a trade for their future. We need a wholesale rethink of Education, not everyone should or indeed wants to go to University.
Aarah Savill, England

The school system does not create a pleasant environment for children. But the children that play truant are not the children who are bullied, they are the children who have difficulty learning and who have been brought up to believe that they do not have to make the effort. If parents were forced to take some responsibility for their child, they may try harder to bring them up in a way in which they could function in society - the first step being to work hard in school. I don't think however, that it should be the responsibility of the headmaster to collect the fines, it would be a nightmare and should be left to the police and the courts.
Alex, UK

This issue can easily be resolved by defining responsibility. The parent has the responsibility of delivering the child to the school premises. At this point, it is the school's responsibility to ensure that the child remains at school - and if this means restricting the child's "right" to roam around the school precincts, (and thereby "escape"), so be it! Once the school and parent(s) have agreed and accepted these definitions, then we can start to ascribe "blame" when truancy occurs, but not until.
Alan H, UK

Perhaps some children are not cut-out for mainstream schooling

Sophie, UK
I think fines are counter-productive. Perhaps some children are not cut-out for mainstream schooling. More efforts should be made for alternative education/ training opportunities. I was a long-term truant who much preferred hanging out in my local library/museum/ being curled up at home with a stash of books to the "experience" of a comprehensive school education. Did my truancy harm my education? Well, I passed 5 A-levels at grade A and took a first class honours degree so judge for yourself.
Sophie, UK

Oh yes, what a great idea! Let's give another group of people the power to fine others. Soon the bin men will be able to fine me for forgetting to my bin out. Well done again good old New Labour.
Cameron, England

What a great idea. As well as fining the parents of children who skip school, head teachers should also be able to give them detention and lines.
E. Dunne, GB

Children over a certain age are not going to change their behaviour

Rhea, Plymouth
Plans to make parents of truanting children go to "parenting classes" are a bit pointless. Children over a certain age are not going to change their behaviour if their parents start acting differently. It's too late for them. Parents need to be taught how to be good parents before they have children.
Rhea, Plymouth

Many of these children are from low income families so taking away food from the table is a good idea? Many of these families have so many issues going on like drug and alcohol abuse, physical abuse, broken marriages, and the like, that truancy is not on the top of their list to deal with. Enforcing heads of schools to dish out the fines leads to another heap of trouble. Can you imagine the backlash?
Emma, Northants

I skipped school as often as I could - obviously without my parents' knowledge, and every time I was caught my mother had the humiliation of meeting with the teachers. My parents were not to blame - they did the best they could for me. It was just me being a rebellious stroppy teenager.
Laura, England

Yet another bad idea by this government

Neil Saunders, London, England
Head teachers should, under no circumstances, be given the power to issue fines. The matter of punishment for infringement of the law should be left up to the proper authority - namely the courts. To assign the duty of punishment to a body outside of the recognised legal system is a dangerous precedent and represents yet another bad idea by this government which is, step by step, eroding the rights of the people of this country.
Neil Saunders, London, England

Presumably parents will be able to fine teachers if they fail to prevent pupils from walking out of school?
Ray, UK

I am shocked at some of the small minded comments on this site. This is a very complex problem, and the government seems to think there is a simple solution. I have just left school and am now at university and I could give the government 100 reasons why children miss school, none of which are the fault of the parents. If someone wants to find a possible solution to this problem- they should talk to us, the children!!!
Lauren, Scotland

Most truants come from disadvantaged homes in the first place. Fines will merely add to the problems and are unlikely to be paid. Education should be geared to the needs and abilities of the students - currently it is too academic and a turn off to the less gifted. 3Rs essential, but beyond that it should cater for the vocational aptitude of the student. Private schools do a much better job in this respect. I wonder why!
David, UK

Instead of child support, why not have child at school support? Parents only receive support for each day their child is at school. (Once they start school of course)
Kevin, UK

Head teachers should not be policemen for a lazy government

If the young concerned do not wish for an education in a school environment then an alternative should be found - such as work experience or apprenticeships combined with an education element or more support for parents who wish to educate their children at home. Forcing head teachers to issue fines will drive a wedge between parents and the school.

I know I would resent any such fine being imposed on me by the school as it oversteps their authority and role. Head teachers should not be policemen for a lazy government incapable of simple joined-up thinking.

Fines and parenting classes will not help one iota. I'm all for parental involvement to address behavioural problems in children but fines... Usually the problem children come from low income families, so why hit them even harder?
Jig, China

In principle, fining parents for their children's truancy seems a good idea and could be extended to their offspring's activities outside of school, but recent figures show that 80% of fines are not paid. Good soundbite but impractical.
Graham, UK

Many children are only doing something very natural when they don't turn up

Laurence, England
Many children are only doing something very natural when they don't turn up at school. Many schools are not very pleasant places for any child. Many children get bullied and nothing is done about the troublemakers. Instead of forcing people to conform to a system, find out what their real problems are. This policy burdens institutions with more bureaucracy. Children come into the world as sensitive and joyful beings and it doesn't take long for them to turn into little monsters if they traumatised by the first institution they have to endure.
Laurence, England

What do we have the court system for? There is already a system in place to deal with this; all it needs is for the people concerned to actually operate it! A head teacher is not qualified to make a decision over a punishment for a criminal offence.
Ian Harrison, UK

I think it's groundbreaking. It's about time we made parents take proper responsibility for their children's actions and I see this as the first step in achieving this. Next I'd like to see parents fined for their children's crimes.
Steve, UK

It will create an even greater feeling of 'them and us'

Colin Harrison, UK
This is completely the wrong emphasis. We need to foster an attitude where parents believe they are customers of the school or have a sense of ownership of it. Many head teachers are not part of the community they serve. If heads can fine parents it will create an even greater feeling of "them and us" as if the parents are back at school themselves. What is needed is to give local communities a greater say in the management of schools.
Colin Harrison, UK

Colin Harrison, UK is so na´ve. These are parents who want no responsibilities and simply don't care. What on earth makes him think they either want or need a role in the running of a school? These pathetic excuses for parents can't run a proper family, never mind a school. Come Colin, live in the real world and not some silly PC utopia.
Garry, England

Fining parents is a great idea, though whether the head teacher should have to do the fining is questionable. It will make irresponsible parents think of ways to encourage their offspring to attend, rather than turning a blind eye. About time.
Steve, UK

As an ex-head teacher, I am horrified by these proposals. Can you imagine the wrath that head teachers will incur from angry parents if their kids are fined? Why put head teachers in the firing line? And aren't they busy enough with having this added, draconian responsibility?
Donny, Scotland

If a child persists in playing truant and it can be proved the parents aren't encouraging their children to attend, I am sure stopping the family allowance and/or reducing a few benefits may just do the trick.
Amanda, England

Fining the parents is not the answer - kids have to learn to do things for themselves ie behave properly and get a proper education - these lessons should have been learnt early on in life. If the parents don't care why should the offspring? Why not fine the child? Crime and punishment - if they are old enough to skip school then they are old enough to take the consequences.
Jesse, Yorkshire

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12 Dec 02 | Education
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