Leading Article: Truancy fines are welcome

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The Independent Online

The government's plans for on-the-spot fining of parents who encourage their children to play truant, have attracted much criticism from the teaching profession.

The government's plans for on-the-spot fining of parents who encourage their children to play truant, have attracted much criticism from the teaching profession. The majority of head teachers do not want to serve fines on parents, but education welfare officers - after initial objections - are going along with the fines. We believe that the fines, which take the form of a parking ticket-style fixed-penalty notice, and can be up to £100, are not a draconian measure from the nanny state to crack down on truancy. Rather, they offer a halfway house between turning a blind eye to truancy, and confronting a parent with a Magistrate's Court appearance, possibly a stiffer fine, and - in extreme cases - prison. The fines are an attempt to show parents that they must take responsibility for their children's attendance at school, and that the feeble excuses encountered by police and truancy patrols during sweeps of shopping-centres cannot be tolerated.

However, we do understand the reluctance of head teachers to become involved in a process that can also be used to punish parents who take their children on holiday during term-time. On one level, the heads do not want to jeopardise their relationships with parents, and be viewed as punitive figures. On another, they see it as another unwelcome layer of bureaucracy. Ministers should not put pressure on heads to participate in the scheme. The fining can be left to education welfare officers or local education authority (LEA) officials.

The third strand of the new legislation, which came into effect last Friday, is for schools or LEAs to apply for "parenting orders" that compel parents of truants to attend classes to improve their parenting skills, on pain of a fine of up to £1,000. According to research from the Department for Education and Skills, initial reluctance by parents to participate in these classes evaporates in most cases when they have attended an 8-10 week course. Eighty per cent said that they found the courses useful, and the Department estimates that as many as 70,000 parents could benefit from them. As with the fixed penalty notices, parenting orders are another necessary element in the fight to reduce truancy. They show the Government to be deadly earnest in its determination to make education a priority.

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