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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 July, 2003, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Truancy crackdown 'paying off'
truancy sweep
Truants are often with their parents
The new "fast track" legal process against the parents of persistent truants in England is proving a success, the government says.

Figures to be published on Wednesday will show that of 1,490 cases started since January, more than half resulted in children returning to school.

The message is clear - prosecution works
Education Minister Ivan Lewis

So prosecutions proved unnecessary.

The figures, from the Department for Education and Skills, relate to 21 local education authorities.

There are now almost 30 involved and more are using the scheme all the time.

The Education Minister Ivan Lewis said: "While the vast majority of parents are willing and able to make sure their children attend school regularly, it is a sad fact that a minority do not.

"For those parents who deliberately condone or encourage their child's truancy, the message is clear - prosecution works.

"Every support and assistance will be offered to parents to help them get their children into school, but we make no apologies for encouraging local education authorities to prosecute parents who are not unable, but simply unwilling to fulfil their legal and moral obligations."

Penalties

Under the "fast track" initiative, parents are given 12 weeks - a school term - to tackle their children's persistent truancy.

If there is no improvement by the eighth week a court summons is sent out.

And if the case does go to court, each parent can be fined up to 2,500 for each child - or even jailed for up to three months.

In the 1,490 cases logged by the department, 739 went to court but in 751 the children returned to school and there was no prosecution.

Concerns

The scheme is part of a concerted effort by the Department for Education to cut the numbers of children missing out on an education.

The shadow education secretary, Damian Green, said: "This news is welcome as far as it goes, but the long term solution to truancy lies not in initiatives and threats, but in making school a useful and worthwhile experience for all children.

"This means giving a decent education to less academic children, who too often are set on the road to truancy by boredom and a sense of failure."

And Gwen Evans of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said: "What is needed to go with the nationwide application of the 'fast track to jail' scheme as a deterrent, is a more long term determination to deal with some of the causes of truancy: bullying to and from school, over emphasis on testing, adolescent mental health problems and parents whose care needs are being met by their children."

Tracy Hornsby
Dragging people to court isn't going to answer this
Tracy Hornsby

One of the first parents to be fast-tracked into court over her daughter's non-attendance, Tracy Hornsby of Tilbury, Essex, remains unrepentant.

She says her daughter was bullied, and she will not pay the 100 fine.

"Dragging people to court isn't going to answer this," she said.

"They need to listen - help the parents. There's a reason for children not going to school."

Sweeps 'raise awareness'

Another key plank of the government's strategy is regular truancy sweeps.

An analysis of these in seven areas by the National Foundation for Educational Research says they raised awareness, in that officials observed a drop in the number of young people out on the streets during a sweep.

"There was some evidence to suggest that attendance levels rose in the immediate aftermath of a sweep although some interviewees believed the effect was a temporary one," it says.

One positive outcome was the possibility of picking up young people who had dropped out of the education system.

Another was the uncovering of vulnerable children, such as those struggling to care for relatives.

Challenging

Some schools were thought to have tightened up their attendance procedures.

Others had an ambivalent attitude.

"It was intimated that schools may not always view the consequences of a sweep in an entirely positive light, particularly when challenging pupils are being returned to them," says the report.

There was little firm evidence as to whether truancy sweeps affected crime levels, although some interviewees "felt there must be a positive link".

As to whether the truancy sweeps worked, the researchers said most of those they interviewed felt they were successful because of the numbers picked up and because of the heightened awareness.

"However, they were less certain of the long term impact on individual pupil attendance."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Sue Lloyd-Roberts
"The police concede that bullying is often a problem"



SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Truancy 'fast track'
26 Feb 03  |  Education
Family holiday 'truants' targeted
23 Feb 03  |  Education
Heads could fine parents of truants
12 Dec 02  |  Education
No progress on truancy targets
09 Oct 02  |  Education


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