Truancy fines for 5,000

Nearly 5,000 parents were fined in a single term last year for allowing their children to play truant or taking them on holiday during school time, the Government revealed this week.

A total of 4,861 penalty notices, costing parents pound;50 a time, were issued between April 22 and September 1, 2006. Of these, more than half had remained unpaid after six weeks and 1,406 parents were prosecuted. And more than 3,200 signed "parenting contracts", setting out how they would address their child's absenteeism.

Despite this, truancy rates in secondaries have decreased only slightly, from 1.23 per cent in 20045 to 1.20 per cent last year.

The figures were announced alongside the new GCSE league tables, which will be greeted with celebrations in 100 secondaries.

Jim Knight, the schools minister, said he planned to write to thank these schools for being the best at increasing the number of pupils to achieve five top grades.

Most improved was Moutfitchet maths and computing college, in Essex, whose score has risen from 19 to 53 per cent since 2003.

Mr Knight also praised the achievements of 13 schools that had improved on the English and maths measure and were outstanding on the Contextual Value Added (CVA) scale, which checks individual pupils' progress. Most of these were in inner-city areas.

He highlighted overall improvements in results since 1997. The proportion of pupils gaining five top grades had risen from 36 to 45 per cent. And the number of schools with below 25 per cent of pupils achieving that benchmark had fallen from more than 1,200 10 years ago to the current 539.

Mr Knight said that such schools should be targeted for "intervention". If the authority failed to do this, ministers would direct them to do so, often by opening an academy. "Mr Knight is determined to continue the battle against coasting and underperforming schools," warned his press release. He also defended grammar schools that appeared to be doing poorly on the CVA measure. Schools with able students found it hard to demonstrate progress, he said

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