The number of parents taken to court because of student truancy in England is on the rise. Statistics issued by the Ministry of Justice and presented by the Press Association after a freedom of information request by the latter reveal that about 16,340 parents in England were prosecuted in 2014 because of their negligence in ensuring that their children attended school. This is a 25% increase from 2013, or 3,000 more parents being taken to court.
The ban of term-time holidays that was implemented in 2013 to decrease truancy has resulted in a sharp rise of the number of parents being taken to court.
In 2014, 12,479 parents, or three in every four parents taken to court, were found guilty – a 22% rise from 2013.
According to Malcolm Trobe, Deputy General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), attendance is closely related to academic success:
“Good attendance is absolutely critical to the education and future prospects of young people. Research has repeatedly and clearly shown that young people whose attendance is good are far more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs.”
A spokesperson of the Department for Education commented on the severity and importance of kids being in school:
“It is a myth that missing school even for a short time is harmless to a child’s education. Our evidence shows missing the equivalent of just one week a year from school can mean a child is a quarter less likely to achieve good GCSE grades, having a lasting effect on their life chances.”
Schools can issue on-the-spot penalty notices of £60 for students with unauthorized absences. The fine doubles if left unpaid for three weeks. If parents fail to pay or there are two or more fines issued, then parents are referred to their local education welfare service who decides if they should be taken to court.
Due to the stricter term-time absence rules, there was a 30% increase between 2013 and 2014 in the number of fines parents had to pay. Indicatively, in 2014, 9,214 parents were handed out fines averaging £172 (about $270). In 2014, 18 jail sentences were issued compared to seven in 2013. Ten of the jailed parents were women.
Courts can issue fines of up to £2,500 or decide on jail sentences of up to three months.
Netmum’s Rachel Burrows says fines and custodial sentences are not a one-size-fits-all solution:
“In many cases, the family may be in crisis or face issues such as a parent with mental health problems or addictions. In these cases, fines or jail won’t help, as the mum or dad needs professional support to turn their lives around and be a better parent. But in other cases, a fine or the threat of jail may be enough to make parents understand how serious the situation is.”