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Heads cold-shoulder new truant fines

Only one in 10 headteachers is considering using powers to fine parents up to pound;100 if their children truant.

A TES survey reveals widespread resistance from heads afraid of jeopardising relationships with parents. However, the majority support the idea of local authorities or education welfare officers imposing the penalties.

From today, heads and other senior teachers can fine parents whose children truant or who go on holiday in term time without permission.

Of the 100 heads surveyed, only 12 said they were likely to use the new penalties, while 44 said it was very unlikely and a further 44 said they would never resort to them.

The new powers were introduced to make parents more responsible for their children's behaviour. Education authorities can now enforce attendance at parenting classes if their children are excluded or suspended.

Schools can also ask parents to sign contracts agreeing to improve their child's behaviour and attendance.

Several of the heads said they were feeling overwhelmed by Government initiatives because the Prime Minister Tony Blair suggested this week that they should carry out random drug tests on their pupils - an idea schools also ridiculed.

Headteachers opposed to the fines include Ros Avison, head of Swanley secondary in Kent. "I don't relish the thought of escorting a parent to the cash machine and have no intention of doing so," she said.

Dr Patrick Hazlewood, head of St John's school and community college in Wiltshire, said: "The fines are a product of a police state mentality and I can only imagine the resentment they would create."

The dozen heads who said they would use the fines saw them as a last resort.

Parlaunt Park primary in Slough has taken a strict approach to unauthorised absences, yet still has attendance rates below 90 per cent.

Tara Moran, headteacher, said: "Children only have one chance at an education so their parents must be held responsible. I'd prefer it if education welfare officers gave out the fines but I would not hesitate to use them myself."

Many headteachers said they had sympathy for families who took their children on holiday during term time and suggested that travel companies should be penalised for over-charging.

One head, who wished to remain anonymous, said parents had taken more term-time breaks since the fines were proposed because they had learned that schools could permit 10 days' absence each year.

While heads were reluctant to impose penalties themselves, only 15 per cent opposed the principle of parents being fined over non-attendance. An estimated 50,000 pupils miss school without permission each day and the Government hopes LEAs and schools will use the fines as a speedier alternative to parental prosecutions.

A study published this week by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that half of parents interviewed felt that prosecutions for truancy did not improve attendance.

The National Association of Head Teachers and Secondary Heads Association said The TES's findings reflected their members' deep opposition to the fines.

The Department for Education and Skills said it had never expected all schools to use the fines. A DfES spokesman said: "It is entirely up to heads - they are just another tool in the tool-box."

Drugs tests 4

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