Behind the headlines

Having mopped up 12,000 truants in its 10-area street crime
initiative since April, the government will now make parents of
persistent truants face fast-track prosecutions for “refusing” to
send their children to school. This measure is apparently based on
the assumption that parents are always in the position, given the
will, to make their children attend school.

Despite the success of the Home Office’s street crime
initiative, the Department for Education and Skills has become
increasingly anxious about rising truancy rates in primary schools,
which in many areas have outstripped those in secondary schools.
New figures show that in some areas more than 40 per cent of
children play truant and in one of the worst areas, Tower Hamlets
in east London, 48 per cent of primary age children played truant
for an average of four days in 2001-2. Fast-track prosecutions are
being piloted in six local education authorities from next month.
Parents will be given 12 weeks to get their children back on the
rails or face parenting orders, fines of up to £2,500, or

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“Eight-foot high steel fences, electronic registration, CCTV,
imposed uniform. Am I describing a young offenders institution? No.
I’m describing my son’s secondary school. What next? Perhaps
tagging students would crack truancy? Children and young people
have a right to education and participation in school
decision-making. If attendance at school was not compulsory and
income depended on numbers who chose to come – as for college and
university – that would shake things up.”

Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers

“Education secretary Estelle Morris tells pupils that school is
such a dangerous place because staff are not police-checked, so
pupils must stay at home. Then pupils find out that some exam
boards have lowered their results. So the government comes up with
the reason as to why youth are so demoralised with school that they
truant – it’s the parents, who must be punished. At best this will
force disaffected youth back to being disaffected in school and
bullied youth back to being bullied at school.”

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the

“I welcome the move to hold parents to account when their children
truant from school. There needs to be a recognition that if
children do not get an education, they will have fewer life
chances. The fact that this issue is involving primary school
children is particularly worrying because it could set a pattern
for the future. It should be the responsibility of parents to
ensure their children benefit from society’s investment in

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield
Institute for Health, University of Leeds

“Of course, part of the trouble does lie with parenting, but what
exactly is the Department for Education and Skills trying to
achieve here? It is simply unrealistic to extract parental
behaviour from its social context and expect punitive measures to
resolve a complex social problem. Indeed, the DfES might ask
whether its own fixation with standards and the creation of a
two-tier educational system might not be contributory factors.
Since health secretary Alan Milburn nailed down the coffin on the
Seebohm report last week, it is worth revisiting chapter 8 to find
a more sensible approach rooted in the total environment of the

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“This is all about labelling parents who either cannot cope or do
not value education, perhaps because of their own poor experiences.
If punishment worked, prison would be a much more effective
deterrent on offending behaviour than it actually is. Couldn’t the
government introduce incentives? I have a granddaughter in an inner
city first school and they are congratulated in assembly for good
attendance, and parents are invited to watch the little ceremony.
Parents need to feel good about what their children do and be
nurtured and to feel part of the school.”

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