Call to toughen truancy penalties

Bournemouth Echo: Charlie Taylor, Expert Adviser on Behaviour, said fines for parents who allow their children to miss school should be increased Charlie Taylor, Expert Adviser on Behaviour, said fines for parents who allow their children to miss school should be increased

Fines for parents who do not ensure their children attend school should be increased, with the money taken automatically from their child benefit if they fail to pay, the Government's expert adviser on behaviour has announced.

The proposal would mean the penalties would have more of a positive effect on ensuring all pupils attend school regularly, said the adviser, Charlie Taylor.

Mr Taylor, who has worked in some of London's toughest schools, was commissioned by Education Secretary Michael Gove to look at the issue of school attendance in the wake of the summer riots last year.

He said: "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. The policy was introduced in 2004 and the levels of the fines have not been revised since then. In comparison to other offences, the fines for school absence are seen as relatively low.

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.

Parents who do not receive child benefit and fail to pay fines would have the money recovered through county courts. Mr Taylor also recommends that the Government should toughen up rules around term-time holidays.

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

Mr Taylor said that head teachers should continue to use discretion and that the relevant regulations should be strengthened to make clear that schools should only give permission for where there are exceptional circumstances.

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