Thousands of Notts parents prosecuted for child's truancy

Courts issued fines in 71 cases.
Courts issued fines in 71 cases.

Thousands of parents have been prosecuted for truancy in Nottinghamshire over the last five years, amid a government crackdown on unauthorised school absences.

Councils covered by Nottinghamshire police took 2,033 parents to court in the five years to 2017, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show

Of those charged, 1,273, or 63 percent, were found guilty.

Courts issued fines in 71 cases.

Prosecutions for truancy across England and Wales reached 18,377 during 2017 - 6,600 more than during 2013 - with parents being hit with more than 11,700 fines.

In total, 83,790 prosecutions were undertaken between 2013 and 2017 and 50,180 fines handed out.

The National Education Union said fines were counterproductive, and that there was no easy fix for truancy

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: "One thing that is certainly needed, to ensure pupils are in school and engaged in learning, is a dialogue between the school and parents or carer.

"Fines invariably have the complete opposite effect, creating unnecessary tensions between schools and families.

"Clearly this is counterproductive to getting the problem resolved.”

Seven in 10 prosecutions in Nottinghamshire were against women.

Women were also more likely to be found guilty - 63 percent of those prosecuted were convicted, compared to 55% of men prosecuted.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of women's rights charity Fawcett Society, said it was concerning to see mothers penalised more often than fathers, adding that society was "too quick to judge mothers".

Both parents have a legal obligation to ensure children attend school regularly, regardless of whether they are separated.

Headteachers and councils can also issue on-the-spot fines to parents for unauthorised absences instead of taking them to court, but may prosecute if the fine is not paid.

Around 400,000 such fines were issued in England and Wales between 2014-15 and 2016-2017.

A recent academic study found that parents of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities were frequently being prosecuted for truancy, when they would have benefited from more support.

Professor Rona Epstein, one of the researchers, said: "It's horrendous that these parents are prosecuted, and it's costing an absolute fortune from the public purse to do so."

She added that mothers were the sole parents prosecuted in many cases, even if the child belonged to a two-parent household.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil's chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.

"We are clear that pupils can only take term-time leave in exceptional circumstances, and where this leave has been authorised by the headteacher."

In other news Lancashire County Council has warned parents that they could be fined up to £1,000 if they take their children out of school to go on holiday.

Elsewhere in the country, parents are currently given a fixed penalty of £120 per child – ten times less than what the local council are proposing.

Councillor Philip Owen, chairman of the children and young people’s committee for Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “As a former teacher and as chairman of the Children and Young People’s committee at Nottinghamshire County Council, I recognise the importance of good attendance at school for pupils’ academic achievement and their life chances. Research has shown that children who miss school on a regular basis have poorer outcomes than their peers.

“Whilst prosecuting or fining parents is a last resort it is necessary in some instances where other interventions have not worked or where parents decide to take their children out of school for a leave of absence in term time without the authorisation of the head teacher. The law is very clear that pupils must attend school on every day that they are required to by the head teacher and parents can only remove them from school with the head teachers permission in exceptional circumstances.

“Fathers have an equally important role to play in ensuring their children attend school regularly. Where they are involved in the day to day care of a child who is not attending school regularly or where a father is responsible for a child’s unauthorised absence from school in term time, then the local authority will always work with schools to include them in any legal action. “