Parents of truants face cut in child benefit

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Parents whose children play truant from school should face larger fines with deductions from their child benefit if they fail to pay, the Government’s expert adviser on behaviour has said.

The proposal would mean the penalties would be more effective in enforcing regular school attendance, according to the adviser, Charlie Taylor.

The comments come less than a month after official figures revealed about 62,000 youngsters across England missed sessions without permission on a typical day last year.

Yorkshire has the highest level of truancy in the country and more than 40,000 pupils classed as being persistently absent from their lessons.

The number of pupils in the region – as well as the total across the country – playing truant or being taken out of school without permission grew during the last academic year.

In light of the problem, and in the wake of the summer riots last year, Mr Taylor was commissioned by Education Secretary Michael Gove to look at the issue of school attendance.

The adviser has worked in some of the London’s toughest schools.

Announcing his findings today, he will say: “We know that some parents simply allow their children to miss lessons and then refuse to pay the fine. It means the penalty has no effect, and children continue to lose vital days of education they can never recover.

“Recouping the fines through child benefit, along with other changes to the overall system, will strengthen and simplify the system. It would give head teachers the backing they need in getting parents to play their part.”

Issuing fines to parents is one of the last resorts for schools to deal with absence problems.

At present, if a head teacher decides to impose a fine, the parent has 28 days to pay a fine of £50; if they fail, then it is doubled.

After 42 days, if the parent has not paid, then the school or local authority has to withdraw the penalty notice, with the only further option being for local authorities to prosecute parents for the offence.

More than 32,600 penalty notices for school absence were issued to parents last year, and more than 127,000 have been issued since introduction in 2004. However, about half went unpaid or were withdrawn.

Education welfare officers report that, within certain groups of parents, the word has spread that prosecution for bad attendance is a muddled process in which there is a good chance of getting off without sanction.

Mr Taylor’s plan is for head teachers to impose a fine of £60 (a £10 increase) on parents they consider are allowing their child to miss too much school without a valid reason.

If they fail to pay within 28 days, then the fine would double to £120 (a £20 increase) and the money would be recovered automatically from their child benefit.

Mr Taylor is also expected to recommend that the Government should toughen up rules around term-time holidays.

The latest figures show these remain a major reason for absence and in 2010-11 increased to 9.5 per cent of overall absence, from 9.3 per cent the previous year.

If children go for a two-week holiday every year and have an average number of days off for sickness and appointments, then by the time they leave at 16 they will have missed a year of schooling.