Joanna Moorhead: This is no way to get children into school

Parents want their children to do well; they know going to school will help them do that

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It sounds so simple, doesn't it? We've got a problem: truanting kids. So here's a solution: fine the parents. And just to make it simpler still, if the parents don't pay their fine, why not deduct it from their child benefit? That'll teach them, won't it? That, in a nutshell, is the logic of the Government's expert adviser on behaviour, Charlie Taylor, who published proposals this week allowing schools to impose fines of £60 for truancy, rising to £120 after 28 days.

If the parents still don't pay, the money would be recovered automatically from their child benefit. Oh yes, and for those parents who'll be losing their child benefit next year, the county courts will clunk into action. One way or another, says Taylor, we'll teach those unruly parents a lesson.

The hell they will: because the reality that's staring him in the eye, or should be, is that by the time kids are truanting, they are at the top end of primary or in secondary school: and the root causes of their truancy will go back to their early years' parenting. If there are lessons the parents of truants need to learn, they are lessons they should have learned when their kids were babies, or pre-schoolers: by this stage of the game, they are probably as clueless as the schools are about how to get them into the classroom.

The seeds for the kind of disaffection and disobedience truants display at 11 or 13 or 15 have their roots in the messages they were told while they were still in their buggies, and before they even started in reception class. There's simply no point demonising the parents: the time has long gone when they'd be able to turn the situation around. But there's worse: because families where children are truanting are usually up against it on a number of fronts. Parents themselves usually want their children to be in school, but feel powerless to know how to get them there.

If you're feeling powerless, the last thing you need is to be made to feel you are failing; and if you are a family that's up against it economically (as many families with truanting children are), the very last thing you need is to be put under additional pressure through more financial loss.

In 20 years as a journalist specialising in family life, one thing has stood out for me: the vast majority of parents I've interviewed want their children's lives to be better than their own. They want their children to do well; and they know going to school will help them do that.

Parents whose kids don't go to school should be Mr Taylor's ally, not his enemy; how sad that he can't see that. And nor does it get him off the hook that he's reiterating Michael Gove's call for parents who take their children out of school for term-time holidays to be similarly penalised: yes, those parents might be middle-class and no, they shouldn't do it. But what's £60 to them, when they're saving hundreds on the cost of a fortnight in the sun? You need to do a lot better than this, Mr Taylor.

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