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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK
Parents told to get in line
Children in a classroom
Truanting is linked to crime say ministers
A court's decision to jail a woman for two months because she failed to make her daughters go to school follows a government campaign against "feckless parents".

Magistrates were given the power to impose a jail term for such an offence two years ago, but this is believed to be the first time the powers have been used.

A court can impose a maximum jail sentence of three months.

The government has been urging local education authorities to come down harder on parents whose children are persistently unruly or keep missing school.

Sanction

Ministers have been highlighting the links between truanting children and crime and say they have been shocked to discover, from a truancy sweep, that four out of five children who were missing school, had done so with an adult's knowledge.

Cases like these come to the magistrates' court through local education authorities (councils).

In this case, Oxfordshire education authority said it had been working with the family for two years to try to get them to make sure the girls went to school.

Another sanction which can be used against parents whose children truant or behave badly is a parenting order, where parents can be told to take certain action - like make sure their children get to school - or be made to attend parenting courses.

Of the 215 parenting orders imposed since the scheme was introduced in June 2000, most have been for truancy.

It seems in the Oxfordshire case, the mother had failed to comply with two parenting orders designd to stop the truanting.

Announcing an extension of the parenting orders at a teachers' conference this Easter, the education secretary Estelle Morris said: "The boundaries laid down by teachers should be supported by parents - there are too many incidents of parents challenging a teacher's right to discipline children in school."

She made it clear the orders would not be used against those parents who were genuinely struggling to raise their child, but those who attitude gave children the impression that teachers and their authority were not to be respected.

Police

Tony Blair also weighed in against those tagged "feckless parents," saying he supported proposals to cut the benefits of parents whose children truanted.

Action is also being taken against the truants themselves.

Two weeks ago, Estelle Morris announced proposals to station police officers in 70 schools in England which have serious problems with truancy and bad behaviour.

The officers would be on duty in schools in London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool by the start of the September term.

Official figures showed that 40% of street crime, 25% of burglaries, 20% of criminal damage and a third of car thefts were carried out by 10 to 16-year-olds at times when they should be in school, she said.

See also:

13 May 02 | England
Mother jailed for girls' truancy
29 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair defends child benefit plan
29 Apr 02 | Education
School police to target truants
26 Apr 02 | Mike Baker
Ministers' naughty pupils problem
25 Apr 02 | Education
Crackdown on truants
29 Apr 02 | Education
Softly, softly in the classroom
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