Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Tackling truancy around the UK

Scottish Parliament
The Scottish government promotes support rather than punishment

The jailing of parents for their children's truancy has been a headline-grabbing feature of tackling absenteeism in England and Wales.

In theory prison can also be a penalty in Scotland. But the sanction of jailing truants' parents for up to a month is not applied in practice - with a spokeswoman for the Scottish government saying that a more positive approach is promoted.

"We do not encourage the use of compulsory measures in Scotland and these are used very rarely by Scottish local authorities," said a government spokeswoman.

"Instead the government and local authorities focus on encouraging attendance, promoting attendance at school through support for pupils and their families, such as home-school link workers."

But parents can be fined up to £1,000 and there are concerns about truancy - particularly the pockets of heavy absenteeism among the most deprived pupils.

Counting methods

Comparing the relative levels of truancy around the United Kingdom is not straightforward, says truancy researcher Professor Ken Reid, deputy vice-chancellor of Swansea Metropolitan University.

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He says that the different ways that figures have been collected and then compiled across the UK mean that it is difficult to make accurate comparisons.

In Scotland there is no longer any separate figure for unauthorised absences - with all types of absence, whether legitimate or otherwise, combined in a single figure.

As with England, the emphasis has shifted towards measuring attendance - looking at how many are getting into school rather than focusing on the relatively small numbers of deliberate absentees.

In Wales, the most recent unauthorised absence figures show a higher rate than in England.

The jailing of truants' parents has continued in Wales and as in England, courts can impose a fine of up to £2,500 per child.

In a case last summer, a mother and father in Flintshire who had separated were both jailed for the truancy of their 15-year-old child.

Early intervention

However the impact of such imprisonment has been doubted by Professor Reid, who chaired the National Behaviour and Attendance Review in Wales.

Its report to the Welsh Assembly last year recommended an earlier intervention and the need for schools to have senior staff specifically responsible for attendance and behaviour.

In Northern Ireland, truants' parents are not jailed and the maximum fine for persistent truancy is £1,000 per child. An education supervision order can also be applied to persistent truants.

The figures for secondary school absenteeism show that there is a higher rate of unauthorised absence than in England and Wales - but there is a lower overall rate of absence.

The number of truancy fines is also relatively low - with 107 being imposed in Northern Ireland last year (in contrast, there were more than 10,000 prosecutions in the most recent figures for England).

A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Department of Education says that the emphasis is now on providing support, with fines used only "as a last resort".

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