Behind the headlines

Education welfare officers will be among those expected to hand
out fines to the parents of persistent truants under proposals that
the Home Office and the Department for Education and Skills have
just put out for consultation.

The on-the-spot fines, which could also be issued by head
teachers and the police, are intended as an alternative to the
criminal prosecution of parents deemed not to be trying hard enough
to keep their children in school.

Among the other proposals in the document, which offers guidance
on the best use of antisocial behaviour powers, are the
introduction of parenting orders and contracts for those whose
children have regularly missed school and have failed to improve
their attendance. Education minister Ivan Lewis said children had a
“fundamental right to education” and parents had to play a role in
ensuring they attended school regularly. “Where parents are simply
unwilling to fulfil their responsibilities, it must be right that
society demands legal sanctions,” he said.   

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“The annual jaunt I make each July with my son to Le Tour de France
may cost £100 more if I get a fixed penalty fine because it’s
term time. And, if I dig in my heels, I may get done for
£1,000. And if I still refuse to pay, will I be liable to
imprisonment for non-payment? ‘Antisocial behaviour’ is a term
invented to justify criminal sanctions being applied to
non-criminal activity. And the government has decided to extend its
scope despite massive opposition and – it confesses – lack of
evidence about how it’s working anyway. This is not a good

Karen Squillino, primary prevention co-ordinator,

“This is probably one of the most na‹ve and poorly thought
out policies I have ever come across. The thinking that underpins
the ‘hitting people in the pocket’ concept has obviously been
dreamed up by civil servants who are not in touch with the reasons
why we have such high truancy rates in this country. Families need
to be worked with in a supportive and inclusive way. On-the-spot
fines will do nothing to reduce truancy figures and the money spent
trying to recover the fines imposed is another point worth

Julia Ross, social services director, London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham

“It’s of course nonsense to treat parents like traffic offenders;
it’s demeaning, ridiculous and totally impractical. I like the idea
of immediate penalties for petty misdemeanours but this is not the
sort of problem that will be amenable and I feel very sorry for the
education welfare officers. I sincerely hope there will be no
attempt to include social workers as spot finers.”

Bob Hudson, senior associate, University of Birmingham
health services management centre

“Children have a right to an education, but slapping heavy fines on
parents who probably can’t afford to pay them hardly adds up to an
effective strategy. Education welfare officers need, yet again, to
ask themselves whether they are truancy officers or social workers,
and the government needs to ask itself whether a strategy of social
inclusion can be built upon a punitive platform.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“We cannot treat truancy like train ticket evasions or education
welfare officers like ticket inspectors. To do so will create
conflict between parents, children and schools and remove the
possibility of the effective partnerships which are the best way we
have to help us understand why children truant. There are no simple
causes – what about children who persistently miss school for fear
of bullying? Are we going to punish foster carers looking after the
children who have always truanted? Or shall we just punish the
corporate parents, the social workers?”

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