Councils to face rap for care truants

They will be made responsible under new laws and face fines just like parents

LOCAL AUTHORITIES will face fines if looked-after children skip school, under plans being considered by ministers. Existing legislation only allows parents to be prosecuted and jailed over pupil truancy.

But ministers are worried by a "culture of non-attendance" at many children's homes, so they hope to make local authorities liable as well.

The proposal is expected to be included in the Care Matters White Paper to be published later this year. Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, said: "So many children in care homes say they aren't always required to be at school. The local authority ought to be responsible in its role as a corporate parent."

She made the announcement as the Government unveiled a report on its Care Matters Green Paper, which was launched following The TES's Time to Care campaign.

Our manifesto outlined a range of proposals to improve the education of children in care, more than half of whom leave school with no GCSEs. And ministers have signalled their intention to enshrine many of the proposals in law.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, said: "For too long, children in care have not had the support and opportunities they need. Now we need to act."

The Government's plans include offering places at high-achieving schools for looked-after children, funding boarding school places and providing Pounds 2,000 higher education bursaries. There will be trials this year, including free private tutoring and pound;500 bonuses for each child's social worker to spend on books and equipment.

But there are still concerns that children in care are missing out on normal activities because of restrictive health and safety practices.

Louise Campbell, from advocacy group National Voice, said some local authorities required risk assessments before children could join after-school clubs. "It is utterly ridiculous," she said.

Johanna Ranthe, a voluntary worker and former looked-after child, said it was not uncommon for young people to be barred from staying with friends because their families had not been police-checked. "You cannot do the things normal people do and it's frustrating," she said.

Research published this week suggested that fines and other sanctions had little impact on truancy, even if they did shock some parents into action.

Ming Zhang, principal education welfare officer for Kingston upon Thames, examined data from 150 local authorities in England over three years and found no statistical link between penalty notices and attendance.

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