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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 16:22 GMT
Truants' parents face jail
truancy officer
Authorities have been unable to force parents to attend court
Parents in England who fail to stop their children playing truant from school could be jailed for up to three months.

A clause in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill allows parents who do not turn up in court to answer charges to be jailed and/or fined up to 2,500 each.

At present the maximum penalty is a 1,000 fine.

The threat of a jail term is far tougher than that proposed by the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, at the Labour Party's annual conference last year. He argued for the increased fine but did not mention prison.

The Department for Education said the threat of jail was a necessary requirement to force parents to attend court. In practice it would not expect the punishment to be used except in extreme cases - although of course the deterrent will now be there.

Final sanction

It says local education welfare officers normally attempt to liaise with parents and schools to encourage a truanting pupil to attend.

Only after all their attempts had failed are court proceedings considered.

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

But eight out of 10 parents who are prosecuted by local education authorities do not appear in court, and until now magistrates have been unable to compel them to do so.

Announcing the new penalties, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said: "David Blunkett, and I share this view, was anxious to toughen up the punishment for truancy.

'Appropriate'

"Parents will now turn up. If they wilfully refuse I think this is an appropriate punishment.

"The truth is proceedings against parents of truants had fallen into disrepute. Parents of the worst cases had been complicit in their children's truancy and therefore in almost every case their children's crime."

The Home Office estimated that the crackdown would cost around 1m a year in legal aid to those prosecuted.

But critics of the government's intention say many parents are at their wits' end trying to get their children to school and need help, not punishment.

Ministers are concerned about the level of truanting partly because of their efforts to raise educational standards - those who are not in school are obviously not learning.

But also, statistics show that children playing truant are far more likely to get involved in more serious criminal activity.

It is the government's intention to cut truancy rates in schools by a third by 2002.

See also:

30 Sep 99 | Education
30 Sep 99 | Education
01 Nov 99 | Education
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