Fixed penalty notices for the parents of regularly truant children have been utilized to curb absenteeism in parts of England for nearly a decade. The Welsh government has previously resisted the implementation of all such policies in Wales, saying that they would not be consistent with their ‘inclusion policies’, but now seems likely to change its mind and introduce the scheme.
Education Minister Leighton Andrews has requested his officials draw up regulations for penalties of up to £120 for parents of truants. The aim is to improve educational outcomes by tackling entrenched high levels of truancy.
However some like education professor Ken Reid are still opposed to the changes:
Prof Reid, of Swansea Metropolitan University, said: “The weakness of the proposal is that it is likely to target some of the most vulnerable parents and those living close to the poverty line.
“Under European law all parents of a similar position are treated equally.
“You would have to have specific grounds for having people who are going to receive fines if you are not collecting fines from parents in exactly the same position.”
Plaid Cymru’s education spokesman Simon Thomas echoed Reid’s concerns that truancy fines were flawed, saying that while the government claimed to be prioritizing the needs of the poor at risk of exclusion it was difficult to see how this could be achieved by targeting the financially disadvantaged with penalty notices.
There are also concerns that the scheme hasn’t shown long term results in England. While a study by the Department of Education in England found that truancy fines could help short term attendance improvement this benefit had proven difficult to sustain in the long term.
In 2010/11 Cardiff had an unauthorized absence rate of 2.9% in secondary schools and 1.7% in primary schools, which is the highest rate of the 22 local education authorities in Wales.
A Welsh government spokesperson said: “The minister has raised concerns about levels of absenteeism in Welsh schools and we are exploring how a system of penalty notices for regular non-attendance at school in Wales could work in practice alongside other strategies and support system already available.”
The Welsh Local Government Association is in favor of the scheme observing that the notices would be an additional tool for councils to use in the battle against truancy, and that they wouldn’t be issued until after efforts by the education welfare service to improve the child’s attendance had been exhausted.