Revealed: Twice as many mothers prosecuted for their children's truancy than fathers, figures show

Exclusive: Women also significantly more likely than men to be found guilty once in court, figures show

Harriet Clugston
Wednesday 20 February 2019 10:59 GMT
Both parents are legally obliged to ensure children attend school, even if they don’t know where they are
Both parents are legally obliged to ensure children attend school, even if they don’t know where they are (Getty)

Truancy prosecutors have been accused of “unjustly” targeting mothers after figures revealed more than twice as many women are taken to court for the offence than men.

Almost 18,380 parents and carers were prosecuted in England and Wales in 2017 for failing to ensure their child’s regular attendance at school, according to a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Women accounted for more than 10,200 prosecutions – 71 per cent of cases where the sex of the defendant was recorded – compared with 4,220 men.

Councils prosecute parents for truancy, but data is collected at police force level.

In two police force areas – South Wales and Gwent – 87 per cent of prosecutions were against women.

Coventry University researcher Rona Epstein, co-author of a recent study on truancy prosecutions, said the gender gap could not be explained by the number of single mothers alone.

She said: “The gender split would be more than 50 per cent, but it shouldn’t be anything like the numbers we’re seeing.

“A child has two parents, and even in families headed by a single mother most fathers have contact and parental responsibility.

“But there are heterosexual partnerships in which the woman is being targeted, and I just don’t know why that is.

“Absolutely this is a gender equality issue – it’s completely unjust and wrong.”

Almost three-quarters of fines issued by courts for truancy offences were issued to women in 2017, as were 84 per cent of community sentences, such as orders to do unpaid work.

Truancy is a strict liability offence in England and Wales, meaning parents can be found guilty even if they did not know about their child’s absence.

Both parents have a legal obligation to ensure children attend school regularly regardless of whether they are separated, according to Department for Education (DfE) guidance.

'I'm concerned we won't be able to meet the needs of the children anymore' Derbyshire school's headteacher explains effects of school funding shortage

Women were also more likely to be found guilty than men, however – 79 per cent of those prosecuted in 2017 were convicted, compared with 70 per cent of men.

The Magistrates Association said it did not know what would cause the disparity in conviction rates.

“There are statutory defences to these offences but I can’t see why any of them would be more applicable to men than women,” said chief executive Jon Collins.

“Any suggestions are pure speculation.”

Ms Epstein said the figures suggested magistrates were discriminating against women.

“Until someone forces the Ministry of Justice to sit down and look at this, we can’t know why it is happening,” she said.

“But until proved otherwise, it looks like the courts are holding women to an unfair degree of responsibility on a gender bias basis.”

Sam Smethers, chief executive of gender equality charity the Fawcett Society, agreed it was concerning to see women being disproportionately penalised, adding that society was “too quick to judge mothers”.

A spokesperson for the MoJ said prosecution decisions were not theirs to make, while magistrates acted independently.

The DfE argued that every missed day of school could impact on a child’s life chances, but did not comment on the gender of those prosecuted.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in