Truancy court cases stuck in slow lane

The first ever “fast-track” truancy prosecution hearings were held
at Grays Magistrates Court in Thurrock, Essex, last week, and
proved to be anything but rapid.

Eight parents were accused of failing to ensure their children
attended school. Five parents pleaded not guilty and their hearings
have been adjourned until next month, two parents were not present
and will attend in the next few weeks, and one parent withdrew his
plea on his solicitor’s advice and will return to court in

Thurrock is one of nine councils in England to be selected by the
government for the new fast-track prosecution scheme for parents
whose children are persistent truants.

Under the scheme, which began in January, parents are given one
school term to ensure their child attends school regularly before
facing prosecution. Those found guilty could receive a fine of up
to £2,500 or a jail sentence.

The Department for Education and Skills believes the programme will
speed up the time between a child being identified as a truant and
a strategy being put in place to tackle the problem. It will also
ensure consistency between education authorities across the
country. Government figures published last week for the national
truancy sweeps conducted in December reveal that 20,000 pupils were
apprehended out of school by the police. More than a third did not
have a valid reason and more than half of these were accompanied by
an adult.

Meanwhile, minister for young people Ivan Lewis last week announced
further measures such as fixed penalty notices and statutory
parenting contracts to be introduced later this year for parents
who condone regular truancy.

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