Parents face jail for failing to stop persistent truants

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The Independent Online

Police and education welfare officers are to introduce more "truancy sweeps" in an attempt to reduce the 50,000 children who miss school in England every day.

Police and education welfare officers are to introduce more "truancy sweeps" in an attempt to reduce the 50,000 children who miss school in England every day.

The anti-truancy drive is backed by new legislation going through Parliament that would introduce a maximum penalty of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months for parents of children who miss school.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, conceded yesterday that the Government had made almost no headway towards cutting truancy despite previous initiatives to tackle the problem. Mr Blunkett and the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, announced a national crackdown, involving police schools and local authorities, which is backed by £43m.

Research shows a strong link between children who stay away from school and crime. Almost one-quarter of teenagers sentenced in court have been regular truants.

Police are being asked to step up their "truancy sweeps", random sorties to places where children who avoid lessons are likely to congregate, such as shopping centres and amusement arcades.

Mr Straw said: "What is absolutely scandalous is that eight out of 10 parents summoned failed even to turn up in court." Research has shown that children caught playing truant are often with a parent at the time.

Mr Blunkett said a recent sweep of Kempton racecourse in Surrey during a Thursday market discovered 99 children off school without good reason, 81 of whom were with an adult. He admitted: "We have made very little progress in terms of persistent truancy."

The Government has set a target of reducing the 50,000 daily truants by one-third by 2002. Ofsted, the education watchdog, is likely to penalise any school that fails to meet its truancy target.

The Government's plans drew criticism from most teaching unions. The Professional Association of Teachers warned that increased fines could make difficult pupils more unruly. Its general secretary, Kay Driver, argued: "Putting parents in prison will leave pupils with even less parental control and make their behaviour worse."

Nigel de Gruchy, the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the national curriculum should be made more flexible to attract disaffected children. The deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Gwen Evans, said: "What families need is ongoing support, not jail threats."

Theresa May, the shadow Education Secretary, said: "Last year David Blunkett imposed even tougher fines for parents whose children fail to attend school but this has failed to stem the number of children losing out on their education."

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