Essex: Rise in number of parents prosecuted for allowing their children to miss school

THE number of prosecutions taken out against Essex parents whose children are persistently absent from school has risen by 44% in the last year, figures reveal.

In 2011-12, 156 criminal prosecutions were made compared to 108 in 2010-11.

Of those legal proceedings taken in 2011-12, a total of 16 included prosecutions under the Section 444 (1a) of the Education Act 1996 - the most serious offence when a parent knowingly allows a child to be absent from school without authorisation.

When this happens a parent can spend up to three months in prison. In 2010/11 there were 10 of these higher offences.

The remaining prosecutions include those dealt with in the Magistrates court where a �1,000 fine can be issued.

The number of penalty notices handed out has also risen from 406 in 2010-11 to 449 in 2011-12. Parents receive a �60 fine for taking their child on holidays in term time without permission or if their child plays truant.

All legal sanctions are carried out by the Essex Education Welfare Service (EWS) who investigate school absences on behalf of Essex County Council (ECC).

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The figures have been issued in a report ahead of ECC’s Children and Young People Committee meeting on Thursday.

The report states there is a strong link between absenteeism and achievement, with many pupils who miss school on a regular basis becoming a NEET (not in emloyment, education or training) or young criminals.

The news follows other figures published last week by Ofsted which found a third of Essex schools needed improvement following inspections.

The local authority says part of the reason for the increase in legal sanctions is down to a change in Government legislation which lowered the number of classes that have to be missed before a pupil is defined as persistently absent.

A spokeswoman for ECC said: “In 2011 the Department for Education reduced the threshold at which a pupil is persistently absent from 20% to 15%. In practice this has increased the number of persistently absent pupils referred to Essex Education Welfare Service which in turn has resulted in an increased number of parents issued with a Penalty Notice or referred to the courts for prosecution in 2011-12.”

Figures released earlier this year showed more than 10,000 school children in the county were persistenly absent, the equivalent to missing six weeks of school.

Tendring had the highest rate of absent children out of all 12 local authorities in the county, at 7.5%. Colchester was the fifth highest at 5.4%.

The spokeswoman added: “In order to reduce the number of persistently absent pupils, the EWS works very closely with schools offering advice and support to address attendance issues at an early stage.

“Equally, the service will continue to work with parents/carers of those pupils who are persistently absent to ensure they meet their legal responsibilities which in some cases may result in a penalty notice fine being issued or a prosecution.”

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