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David Blunkett: "Let's get tough"
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The BBC's Education Correspondent Sue Littlemore reports on the government's proposed tougher action on truancy
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Listen to the whole of David Blunkett's speech
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Thursday, 30 September, 1999, 01:44 GMT
Warning for truants' parents
street stop
Council truancy officers would be given more clout
Parents in England who cannot be bothered to get their child to school could face fines of up to 2,500 each.

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, presented the plans at the Labour Party's annual conference in Bournemouth to target the parents of persistent offenders in England.

He wants the maximum fine on parents to increase from 2,000 to 5,000 per couple per child, and said that parents who failed to turn up in court should be arrested.

At present, the offence is on a par with failing to pay a TV licence, and eight out of 10 parents prosecuted by local education authorities do not appear in court.

The Department for Education thinks prosecutions are begun in about 9,000 cases a year - based on an estimated average of 60 cases for each of the 150 local education authorities.

In Scotland, the equivalent maximum penalties are a fine of 1,000 and one month in prison.

'Clear messages'

Mr Blunkett told the conference: "Let's get tough with those who get tough with our teachers".

david blunkett
David Blunkett: Move to end "poverty of expectation"
He said it was "not only poverty of income but poverty of expectation" that made the difference in education and parents were "a vital part of success".

It was a truism that a child who was not in school was not learning - but this had to be tackled if standards were to be improved.

"Dysfunctioning families create havoc, not only for the schools but the community around them," he said.

"From early years onwards, sometimes for the rest of people's lives, that early impact changes the life opportunity of our young people."

Mr Blunkett said some headteachers there had told him that the home environments of some pupils were so bad that they had to "civilise" the children before they could begin to teach them

"Let's take decisive action to send clear messages to those who will not follow the rules and expect rights but not responsibilities," he said.

The government is seeking to make parents more responsible for the attendance of their children as it pursues its target of cutting truancy by a third by 2001.

Mr Blunkett's speech is the next step in an anti-truancy campaign that has already seen greater powers given to the police in stopping truancy.

'Tomorrow's criminal'

It has also given encouragement to schools to tighten up on registers and contact parents when children are missing from class.

Almost two-thirds of school-age offenders are persistent truants and the government is running a 500m scheme to break the cycle of educational underachievement, crime and unemployability.

stopping mother and son
Some authorities feel it is not worth prosecuting parents
A Basic Skills Agency study of 500 convicted offenders in Shropshire found that 64% said they were habitual truants.

An Audit Commission study of 1996 showed that 65% of young offenders of school age who were sentenced in court had been excluded from school or truanted significantly.

A 1995 Home Office research study showed that 78% of boys and 53% of girls who truanted at least once a week committed offences.

The new proposals will go out for formal consultation in October. The Department for Education says local education welfare officers will normally attempt to liaise with parents and schools to encourage a truanting pupil to attend school. Only after all their attempts have failed will consideration be given to requesting court proceedings.

The Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, Don Foster, said the plans were "a further example of the government announcing simplistic and populist solutions to complex problems".

'Parents need help'

"For those parents who persistently connive with their children to keep them away from school there are already laws to punish them. The problem in these cases is not the level of the fine but the ability and willingness of the authority to prosecute them.

"However, many truanting school children are already beyond the control of their parents. Such parents need help, not fines."

At last year's Labour Party conference the government announced its commitment to cutting truancy, promising to reduce the figure of a million pupils a year taking at least one unauthorised absence from school.

The reliability of the figures is called into question however by the strictness with which some schools apply the rules.

In some schools children are marked 'absent' on the register if they are simply hanging up their school bags and are a few minutes late getting into class - even though they are then in school all day.

  • Other announcements at the party conference this year included 170m to support the government's literacy and numeracy strategies in the coming financial year and 130m for an extra 15,000 classroom assistants next year.

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    29 Sep 99 | UK
    Parents pay the price
    22 Jan 99 | Education
    Tackling truancy
    09 Oct 98 | Education
    Parents 'condoning truancy'
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