Parents of truanting pupils will have their child benefit docked if they fail to pay fines under measures announced by the prime minister, David Cameron, today.
Mr Cameron said the tougher action would "tackle the harm truancy does to a child's chances in life". But teaching unions argue that the crackdown could further damage pupils' prospects
At present, non-payment of a £60 civil penalty fine for truancy in England will lead to its being doubled to £120 after 21 days and subject to prosecution after 28. But two-fifths of parents still fail to pay and many do not end up in court because councils do not press legal action.
Mr Cameron said: "We are determined to tackle the harm truancy does to a child's chances in life. There is nothing responsible about allowing your child to go without an education. So for parents who let their child play truant and refuse to pay truancy penalties, we will deduct it from their child benefit."
But Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said docking benefits was not the answer. "For some families all that this will do, of course, is increase the chaos and it will increase the deprivation," she said.
"It won't actually solve the problem and in the middle of all of this is a child who's not getting their entitlement to education."
Figures obtained earlier this year by the Press Association showed that 16,430 people in England were prosecuted last year for failing to ensure that a child went to school – with around three-quarters (12,479) found guilty. Courts issued 9,214 parents with fines worth an average of £172.
The prime minister also announced a new right for parents in England to request that schools provide breakfast and after-school clubs or holiday care. Childcare providers will be granted the right to request use of school facilities to operate clubs of this kind.
Schools will not be obliged to provide holiday care or "wrap-around" clubs when asked, but will be required to publish reasons why they do not respond to requests from groups of parents or childcare providers.
The right to request will apply to all state-maintained primary schools, as well as new academies and free schools, but headteachers will not have to consider requests to use their sites during school hours or at times when they already operate clubs.
Mr Cameron said the move would increase the supply of childcare places for the offspring of working parents outside school hours, allowing them to work longer hours if they choose to do so.
"Ensuring children get the best start in life is at the heart of our plans," he said.
"We want to help hard-working parents with their childcare plans, so we will give families the right to request that their schools provide childcare for a full working day, before and after school and during the school holidays."