A major rise in the number of parents being taken to court over their children’s truanting from school is revealed in new figures.
They show that 16,430 people were prosecuted last year - up by a quarter on the previous year’s figure of 13,128. Of these, 18 were sent to prison compared with just seven the previous year.
Ministry of Justice figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the national news agency the Press Association show around three-quarters of those charged (76 per cent) were convicted.
“While councils will support parents as much as possible, if they refuse to get their children to school, fines may be issued and ultimately court action will be taken,” said David Simmonds for the Local Government Association.
“We believe the rise in court action and fines issued reflects a rapidly rising school population and tighter enforcement by schools that are under pressure from Ofsted (the education standards watchdog) to meet attendance targets.”
Parenting group Netmums said that in some cases, a fine or threat of jail can be enough to make a parent understand the seriousness of their child missing school but warned - in many others - truancy was a more complicated issue and families may need more support rather than court action.
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: “There can be many reasons why a child or young person is not at school but truanting arising from complex problems will bed better tackled by dealing with the cause rather than imposing fines or imprisonment on families who may already face significant difficulties.”
The figures show that 9, 214 of those found guilty were issued with fines - on average having to pay £172. of the 18 sent to prison, the majority were women.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Good attendance is absolutely critical to the education and future prospects of young children.” Those with good attendance records were far more likely to achieve five A* to C grades at GCSE.
“Schools have rightly responded to this overwhelming evidence by taking a strong line in identifying when children are absent without a valid reason, particularly where there is persistent truancy.”
He suggested the increase in fines could be down to new rules on parents taking children out of school for term-time holidays.
Parents who take children out of school without permission can face a £60 fine per child rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Those who fail to pay may be prosecuted with a maximum fine of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.
In Scotland, the latest figures (for 2013) show attendance ranges from 93.7 per cent (Glasgow) to 96.4 per cent in primary schools (East Renfrewshire). In secondary schools, it ranges from 90.4 per cent (Dundee) to 94.6 per cent (East Renfrewshire).
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “It is a myth that missing school even for a short time is harmless to a child’s education. Our evidence shows missing the equivalent of just one week a year from school can mean a child is a quarter less likely to achieve good GCSE results.”Reuse content