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Last Updated: Friday, 3 October, 2003, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
100 instant penalty for truancy
The government is trying to crack down on truancy
Parents caught with a child out of school could face an on-the-spot fine of up to 100.

A government consultation proposes fixed penalty notices of between 25 and 100 if the children are out of their classes without permission.

The fines could be imposed by head teachers, police or council officers in England.

The plans are meant as an instant reinforcement for existing laws which can mean parents being jailed for three months.

Official statistics show that more than a fifth of England's secondary school students - 21% - are absent from school without permission at some point in the year, on average for 15 half-day school sessions.

Fifteen per cent of primary school pupils were away, for eight half days on average.

The government estimates that about 50,000 children truant every day - and those picked up on "truancy sweeps" are often with their parents.

Prison

Failure to secure regular school attendance of a registered pupil is already a criminal offence for parents.

They can face fines of 2,500 each or three months in jail.

The government wants the fixed penalties to work as a quick "sharp reminder" to parents of their responsibilities.

Recently, more parents have been sent to jail over truancy in an attempt to crack down on the problem.

PROPOSED TRUANCY FINES
25 - Parent agrees absence unauthorised and pays in 14 days
50 - Parent does not agree absence was unauthorised and pays in 14 days
50 - Parent agrees absence was unauthorised and pays in 28 days
100 - Parent does not agree absence was unauthorised and pays in 28 days
Truancy figures in England have fallen slightly, but almost half of all pupils in some areas are absent without permission at one time or another each year.

Under the proposals, which would go into the Home Office's Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, fines will be higher if the parents do not admit that their child's absence from school was not sanctioned by the school.

So if a parent agrees the absence was unauthorised and pays within 14 days, the fine will be 25.

The fine will be doubled if the parent does not admit the absence was unauthorised.

The maximum fine of 100 would be for parents who paid within 28 days and did not agree they were wrong to keep their child from school.

'Gimmick'

The shadow education secretary, Damian Green, said: "While truancy is a serious problem this is yet another in a long line of government gimmicks which do not deal with the real problem.

"Since Labour came to power they have spent 600m on anti-truancy measures with no impact on truancy rates.

"What is needed is a radical change to the curriculum allowing technical and vocational education much earlier than we now do."

And Liberal Democrat spokesman Phil Willis said the "gimmick" masked the seriousness of the problem.

"Making criminals of truants and their families will do little to re-engage those children with education."

'Blight'

But the Adult Learning Minister, Ivan Lewis, said the fines were not aimed at parents struggling to get their children back to school.

"They are aimed at those parents who simply refuse to co-operate with the authorities that are there to help them.

"The main emphasis will be positive support and help but if parents don't co-operate with the simple responsibility of ensuring their children are at school, we feel it is right to hold them to account."

He said truancy "is about blighting the life chances of children".

"It's about saying that in a civilised society, there has to be an understanding that as a parent, a minimum basic requirement is to ensure that your child goes to school.

"It's a balance between rights and responsibilities."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Westhead
"Some 50,000 children are out of school without permission every day"



SEE ALSO:
Up to half of pupils play truant
17 Sep 03  |  Education
Heads could fine parents of truants
12 Dec 02  |  Education
Holiday bid to cut truancy
28 Nov 02  |  Education
Truancy prosecutions dropped
23 Jul 03  |  Education
Truancy crackdown 'paying off'
02 Jul 03  |  Education


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