Parents face truancy crackdown

STEVE DOWNES Thousands of East Anglian parents are feeling the pressure as education chiefs use new legal sanctions to force them to send their children to school. Growing numbers of mums and dads are falling foul of the no-nonsense measures as schools and education officers try to drive down the number of youngsters bunking off each day.

STEVE DOWNES

Thousands of East Anglian parents are feeling the pressure as education chiefs use new legal sanctions to force them to send their children to school.

Growing numbers of mums and dads are falling foul of the no-nonsense measures as schools and education officers try to drive down the number of youngsters bunking off each day.

Hundreds of parents and their children are signed up to parenting contracts, and almost 1,300 have been put on a “fast-track management” system that ends in prosecution if they do not improve school attendance.

Dozens of parents have even been handed fixed-penalty fines of between £50 and £100 to punish them for letting their children skip school persistently.

The new figures, released by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), come two weeks after it was revealed in the EDP that one in 12, or 10,000, East Anglian youngsters were absent from school each day and that “conniving” parents were largely to blame.

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Allan Turner, Norfolk County Council's attendance and exclusions officer, said he hoped the new measures would begin to reduce the truancy levels in the county, which - as is the case across England - have remained almost unchanged despite a host of other initiatives.

He said: “I think the figures will come down because we are beginning to see more parents engaging with the problem. They need to realise the benefits of attendance. If children are not in school they cannot learn.”

He added: “Enforcement is there and we will use it when necessary, but our first aim is to try to work with and support the parents. These measures make parents focus on a problem that needs resolving.”

Since the sanctions were launched in September 2004, 1,208 sets of parents across the region have signed contracts designed to boost their youngsters' attendance, including 250 in the four months to December last year.

Another 1,289 have been forced to attend meetings as part of the “fast- track” system, including 291 from September to December last year.

Norfolk has seen 231 parenting contracts and 139 parents fast-tracked - which involves meetings between persistent truants, their parents, their school and education officers to set a deadline for better attendance. The method is seen as an 11th-hour attempt to avoid taking the parents to court.

The figures are dwarfed by those in Suffolk, where the past two-and-a-half years have seen 1,138 parents being fast-tracked and 869 parenting contracts drawn up.

In Cambridgeshire, the sanctions are relatively unused, with 20 fast-track cases and 108 parenting contracts recorded.

Mr Turner said local authorities were getting to grips with the new ideas at different rates and trying to evaluate the best measures to use in their areas.

The figures also show that 59 parents were given fixed-penalty fines of £50 or £100 for failing to ensure their children attended school in the two-and-a-half years.

At the end of March, the EDP revealed that the stubbornly high truancy figures across the region were down largely to more than 8,000 persistent absentees who missed at least 32 days of school each year.

Heads and union leaders rounded on parents for signing their children off sick when there was nothing wrong with them and for not taking education seriously enough.