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ID card call in truancy swoop

A tough campaign against truancy in the north-east of England has, in three years, seen a fourfold rise in prosecutions against parents and demands for identity passes for children.

Since September, the crackdown has led to 110 court cases in County Durham against parents accused of failing to make sure their children go to school. The total this year is expected to rise to around 140, compared with only 33 cases two years ago.

The campaign includes surprise swoops on town-centre haunts by education welfare officers and police. In the latest two-day exercise, 137 children, some as young as five, were stopped in Durham city and other towns. Many children were with their parents but did not have permission to miss lessons.

Meanwhile, traders have held talks with the police over a new system of identity passes for children to show whether they have been given permission to be absent from school.

Simon Le Druillenec, secretary of the Darlington Chamber of Trade, said shopworkers in the area faced continual problems with youngsters shoplifting and being abusive. Many were suspected of playing truant.

"There is a lot of petty theft here as there is in every town, and many of us are plagued by kids coming in and hanging around," he said. "Sometimes they are aggressive and abusive to staff and other customers.

"An official pass would make it clear if they had permission to be in town and would make sure they were at school getting an education instead of wandering aimlessly around getting into trouble."

Mr Le Druillenec said the system would involve numbered passes issued by the school which could be checked by shopkeepers. The council says the swoops have been successful and is planning more.

Keith Mitchell, director of education, warned that details of how identity passes would be issued and validated still had to be worked out. "It is a good idea, but not a panacea by any means," he said.

In the five-strong swoop teams, education welfare officers and police officers tour on foot or in mini-vans looking for school-age children.

If found, they are questioned but not detained unless they are thought to be at risk or suspected of crime, and enquiries are taken up later with their parents and school.

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