Truancy mother given three-month curfew

5th February 2010 at 00:00
Electronic tag enforces evenings in as child attends 15 per cent of lessons

A Brighton mother last week became one of England's first to receive a court curfew order as punishment for her children's truancy.

The unnamed woman will be electronically tagged for three months and forced to stay at home from 8pm to 7am. She had four previous convictions for her children's truancy.

The woman found herself at the sharp end of a national trend that has seen more and more councils toughening up their treatment of parents of children with high absentee records. Curfews are being imposed instead of jail sentences to avoid children being taken into care.

Her five-year-old child attended just 15 per cent of lessons while her 14-year-old is at school 70 per cent of the time.

The father was sentenced to 150 hours of community service and was given a 12-month conditional discharge. They have also received a parenting order, which means they will have to undergo counselling, guidance and possibly parenting classes.

Vanessa Brown, Brighton's cabinet member for children and young people, defended the hardline approach.

"This is a clear signal to the very small minority of parents that fail to ensure their children attend school regularly that the council and the courts take this seriously," she said.

"All parents of school-age children have a moral and legal obligation to ensure their child regularly goes to school as every lesson counts."

Unauthorised absence from schools nationally has now risen to 1.03 per cent - higher than the rate of 0.7 per cent in 1997.

The use of curfews and tags is still "rare", according to the National Association of Social Workers in Education, but local authorities are now more willing to prosecute, according to president Andy Winton.

"The emphasis is being put on parental responsibility now, whereas before families were offered intensive support," said Mr Winton.

"In certain areas there is more importance attached to enforcement. We would prefer to see a social care approach to truancy rather than just families being taken to court."

Rathbone, a charity for children not engaged in school, says more work should be done to find out the reasons for truancy before parents are punished.

"We often find it's because of bullying - whether that's racist, homophobic or cyber," said spokesman Peter Gibson.

"Parents of those who truant have often also had a negative experience of school."

As well as penalty notices, given through criminal proceedings in court, families of truants can also be given parenting contracts, which are formal agreements between the school, mother and father and local authority, and education supervision orders.

Education welfare officer Ming Zhang, who has conducted national research into the effect of prosecutions on truancy, says they have little impact on school attendance.

"What seems to be happening is councils are setting targets for the number of children they prosecute," said Mr Zhang, who works at Kingston Council in Surrey.

"I think this is dangerous. Performance should be based on the number of children in school and not the number of parents in court."

YOUR ATTENDANCE IS REQUESTED

- Parents are responsible for making children receive full-time education under section 7 of the Education Act 1996. This can be at school, or "otherwise" - for example at home.

- If a child is truanting, the first action local authorities can take is issuing a school attendance order. If the parent fails to comply, they are guilty of a criminal offence and will have to appear before magistrates.

- Another option for local authorities is to issue a parenting contract. These were introduced at the same time as Asbos and are useful for cases of "irregular" attendance but are voluntary.

- An education supervision order is a detailed agreement between the family, teachers and child about attendance and co-operation with the school. Failure to comply is a criminal offence.

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