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Courts need to be firmer with truancy

I refer to the leader "Tony Blair's fourth 'R'" (TES, March 31). First, truancy cannot be likened in any way to absenteeism from work. Truancy is about parental responsibility and children and young people are required, by law, to attend school whereas employees have no similar requirement. That is not negotiable.

It is true to say that not so long ago the level of fines following a successful prosecution, which entails a great deal of work by the education welfare officer, was dismally low and thus effectively vindicated parents actions in not sending their children to school. This did little but demoralise EWOs, but I understand that the average fines for a first offence are now between Pounds 200-Pounds 250 including costs.

The level of fines has been an ongoing issue for this association and there has been continuing contact at both ministerial and official level between the Department for Education and the Lord Chancellor's Department with the issue being addressed by Lord Mackay when he addressed the Magistrates' Association in Leeds last year. The Minister of State for Education, Eric Forth, has addressed that same issue with his article in the Magistrates' Association journal last summer when he stressed the importance of school attendance.

Obviously, the level of fine remains at the discretion of the courts but the indications are that the seriousness of the offence is beginning to be realised by the courts.

Increased unemployment or low-income employment have undoubtedly created sufficient additional pressures on not only the education system, but also on families' motivation to have their children aspire educationally. While the Lothian initiative undoubtedly is welcomed, this is not, on its own, a solution. The fact that they are moving back to create an environment where absence from school is everyone's responsibility, immediately reduces the level of truancy on its own. There remains nevertheless the need for a well resourced education welfare service, totally independent of schools and with clear responsibility for working together with children, families and schools to minimise the effects of absence from school, not only on the children, but also on society.

If everyone helps, perhaps we can create the environment which we had in the past where absence from school was not condoned, parents and children were questioned and the courts used their sanctions more appropriately.

We as an association, would therefore welcome Mr Blair's ongoing interest and support.

J Cameron

Assistant secretary (publicity)

Association of Chief Education Social Workers

21 Beech Road

Weston-super-Mare, Avon

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