Head teachers could be placed in a compromising position under
government plans to give them powers to fine parents who ignore or
condone truancy, a senior trade union official has warned.
John Bangs, head of the National Union of Teachers' education
department, said: "Legal powers to fine ought to remain with the
court and not with headteachers.
"Turning head teachers into tax collectors would mean an enormous
amount of time could be wasted trying to recover those fines." He
added it would create animosity and conflict that could undermine
the partnership between school and home.
Education secretary Charles Clarke announced the fixed penalty
notices plans last week in a speech on tackling truancy and bad
behaviour. Parents will be given the option of paying a fine within
a time limit or appealing against the notice in court. The fine can
be issued by education welfare and police officers as well as
Jacqui Newvell, head of pupil inclusion at the National Children's
Bureau, disagreed with the issuing of notices, arguing that truancy
is too complicated to be dealt with in this way.
"To short-circuit a proper and measured assessment in favour of a
parking ticket-style penalty is dangerous, unjust and not in the
interests of children or the professionals who work with them," she
Newvell also called for a greater use of education supervision
orders to deal with poor attendance, but said a lack of resources
to undertake casework prevented this happening.
Clarke also announced that in this school year £50m would be
made available to the 34 local education authorities with the
highest levels of truancy and street crime in order to fund
"behaviour improvement" packages in targeted schools.
This follows an initiative announced in October and due to be
piloted in nine local education authorities in January.
Under this, parents could face parenting orders, fines of up to
£2,500 or imprisonment if they fail to ensure that their child
attends school regularly within 12 weeks of being warned.
Department for Education and Skills figures show that in some areas
more than 40 per cent of children play truant.