Dishing the dirt on criminal offences

IT is not just mothers of persistent truants who can find themselves facing criminal charges related to education.

Verminous children, dodgy school balances and amorous adventures with sixth-formers can all lead to the growing number of those found on the education charge sheet.

Patricia Amos, jailed last week, and freed on appeal, for allowing her teenage daughters to truant, was one of more than 21,000 people who have found themselves in the dock between 1997 and 2000 on education-related offences. Of these, 18,000 were convicted and 3,000 were acquitted or had their charges dropped.

In 2000, the last year for which figures are available, more than 4,700 people were found guilty. The figures relate to six offences - four of which are targeted solely at parents - which were contained in the 1996 Education Act.

Offences ranged from parents failing to ensure their child attends school to allowing them to be illegally employed.

There is also an offence of "permitting a child to be in a verminous condition", although the latter resulted in just one (successful) prosecution between 1997 and 2000.

The 1996 Act was introduced by the last Conservative government, but at least 14 new education-related offences have been created since Labour came to power - most targeted at those working in schools. There was widespread publicity when Parliament made it illegal for teachers to have relationships with pupils, even if they are over 16, the age of consent.

Ten of the new offences relate to obstructing the work of inspectors in nurseries, schools and colleges in England and Wales. There are no figures available for prosecutions.

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