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TACKLING TRUANCY - EFFECTIVE SUPPORT, EFFICIENT SANCTIONS

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Prosecuting the parents of persistent truants is spurring them to ...
Prosecuting the parents of persistent truants is spurring them to

take action to improve their child's school attendance according to

figures revealed today by Ivan Lewis, minister for skills and

vocational education.

Initial feedback from 21 local education authorities operating the

new 'Fast Track to Prosecution' process shows that in its first six

months of operation almost 1,500 parents of persistent truants were

given the chance to improve their child's school attendance or face

legal action. In the event, only 50% of cases needed to reach the

courts as the parents, faced with the prospect of prosecution,

finally engaged with LEA educational welfare services to get their

children back into school.

The figures were revealed as the Department for Education and Skills

today joined forces with the Department for Constitutional Affairs

and the Magistrates' Association to publish new detailed guidance on

tackling truancy and ensuring regular school attendance.

The guidance will help local education authority education welfare

officers and magistrates, understand the wide range of support

strategies and legal measures that can be used to encourage parents

to take their responsibilities seriously and get their children back

into school, and in cases where it is appropriate, prosecute truancy

cases more efficiently and effectively.

Ivan Lewis said:

'Every day in school counts. Only 8% of persistent truants achieve 5

A*-C GCSEs and around a third achieve no passes whatsoever. This is a

complete waste of potential, and a passport to unemployment,

anti-social behaviour and criminality.

'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 b e 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.

'And the new guidance will support our continuing drive to tackle

truancy and improve school attendance, promoting effective support

where it is needed, or efficient prosecution where it is rejected.'

Research, involving a detailed survey of education welfare service

managers, to be published shortly by the Local Government Association

shows that 5,381 parents were summonsed to court across 93 local

education authorities last year - equivalent to 57-58 prosecutions

per authority with the majority of those interviewed agreeing that

prosecution was the right course of action.

In 80% of cases the prosecution resulted in the parent being found

guilty; 14% of cases were withdrawn; and a not-guilty verdict

returned in less than 1% of cases.

Christopher Leslie, Department for Constitutional Affairs minister,

said:

'This joint guidance will increase understanding of the truancy

prosecution process. It will enable the courts to have a wider

understanding of all the work of the local education authorities

before bringing a case to court as well as the LEAs having a clearer

understanding of the courts process, procedure and powers.'

Welcoming the new guidance, Rachel Lipscomb chairman of the

Magistrates' Association said:

'This will ensure that everyone involved in these cases will be

better informed and prepared, and help the courts to deal with these

cases much more effectively and efficiently, so ultimately reducing

the truanting behaviour which can lead to criminal or anti-social

behaviour.'

Bob Carstairs, assistant general secretary of the Secondary Heads

Association said,

'Truancy seriously affects children's life chances. This guidance

will sup port schools in understanding their role in monitoring and

improving school attendance and will be a useful tool in promoting

closer and more effective working between schools and local education

authorities.'

NOTES

This Notice applies to England.

1. The 'Fast Track to Prosecution' framework was introduced in

January 2003, and is currently being implemented by 30 pathfinder

local education authorities. Under the framework, pupils who have

problems surrounding attendance are identified early and given

structured support by schools and Education Welfare Services to

tackle their truancy and its causes.

2. If difficulties persist and the parent(s) fails to cooperate with

the school/LEA in bringing about an improvement in their child's

attendance, the case enters the 'Fast Track to Prosecution' where the

parent(s) are given 12 weeks (one term) to co-operate, facing

prosecution if they fail to do so. The framework does not 'fast

track' the courtroom process itself, rather it is about pushing

parents who deliberately condone or encourage truancy to take their

responsibilities seriously.

3. Initial feedback from 21 local education authorities operating the

new 'Fast Track to Prosecution' shows that in its first six months of

operation 1490 parents of persistent truants faced the prospect of

legal action unless they improved their child's school attendance. In

the event, only 739 cases reached the courts as 751 parents, faced

with the possibility of prosecution, finally engaged with Educational

Welfare Services to get their children back into school.

4. The LEAs are Birmingham City Council, Blackpool BC, Brent LBC,

Buckinghamshire CC, Camden LBC, Derby City Council, Doncaster MBC,

Hillingdon LBC, Kingston upon Hull City Council, Kent CC, Knowsley MBC,

Liverpool City Council, Manchester City Council, Newcastle City Council,

Newham LBC, North East Lincolnshire Council, Salford City Council,

Stoke on Trent City Council, Thurrock BC, Tower Hamlets LBC and

Sandwell MBC.

5. 'Ensuring Regular Attendance at School - Guidance on the Legal

Measures Available to Secure Regular School Attendance' was developed

by the Department for Education and Skills in partnership with the

Department for Constitutional Affairs, the Home Office, the

Magistrates' Association, the Secondary Heads Association, the

Confederation of Education Service Managers, the National Children's

Bureau, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Justices'

Clerks' Society, the Judicial Studies Board, the Youth Justice Board,

the Local Government Association, the National Association of Social

Workers in Education, and the Association of Education Welfare

Management.

6. The guidance is published hereand explains:

- the roles and responsibilities of parents, schools and the local

education authority in ensuring children's regular school

attendance;

- the law relating to school attendance, where a parent is

responsible for making sure that their child of compulsory school

age receives full-time education, either in school or at home;

- the range of support and intervention strategies available to

encourage school attendance, including dedicated mentoring, parent

support sessions, school reports, in-school counselling, or

referral to Education Welfare Services for intensive casework

support for parent and child;

- the procedure for bringing a prosecution against a parent who has

failed to ensure their child's regular school attendance, including

the new 'Fast Track to Prosecution;'

- and the process of court hearings and sentencing options available

to Magistrates, ranging from punitive fines and community

sentences, to parenting orders which offer intensive guidance and

counselling to parents in dealing with their child, to custodial

sentences of up to three months.

7. The rate of recorded unauthorised absences in primary and

secondary schools has remained unchanged at 0.72% of half days lost

since records began in 1994, translating into 7.5 million days missed

annually. The government is committed to reducing school truancies by

10 per cent by May 2004.

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