Powers to jail truants' parents 'will not be used'

Controversial new powers to jail parents who fail to ensure that their children attend school will be used in only the most extreme cases, ministers indicated yesterday.

The courts were unlikely to take that step apart from exceptional circumstances, the Home Office minister Charles Clarke said at question time.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, announced last month that parents of truant children could face three months in prison under new measures. Hesaid he was "alarmed" that 80 per cent of parents prosecuted for failing to make their children go to school do not attend court. Under the new measures those parents will face penalties of up to three months in jail or fines of £2,500.

In the Commons, Mr Clarke said courts had been given the power to jail parents of persistent truants to ensure they had the "flexibility" needed to tackle the problem. "The purpose of the legislation is very directly to ensure that parents live up to their responsibilities to make sure children do go to school," he said. "There is a massive correlation between people who don't attend school in their early lives and crime later in life.

"In fact, I believe it's extremely unlikely that the courts will choose to imprison a parent save in exceptional circumstances. Making the offence imprisonable gives the courts much greater flexibility in responding to the circumstances of individual cases."

An estimated 50,000 pupils play truant from school each day. About 9,000 prosecutions are brought each year by local education authorities. The Home Office estimated that the crackdown on parents of truants, which forms part of the new Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill, would costabout £1m in legal aid for those prosecuted.