Parents under fire in truancy crackdown

ONE in three children stopped in a new truancy crackdown in Suffolk had no good reason to be off school, the East Anglian Daily Times can reveal. Last night, education chiefs behind the drive hit out at parents who allow their children to skip school – saying they had to start getting the message about how serious it was.

ONE in three children stopped in a new truancy crackdown in Suffolk had no good reason to be off school, the East Anglian Daily Times can reveal.

Last night, education chiefs behind the drive hit out at parents who allow their children to skip school – saying they had to start getting the message about how serious it was.

A total of 291 young people were stopped in the three-week sweep, which covered Ipswich, Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds.

Of those, 90 youngsters (31%) were found to have no valid reason as to why they were not in school – one parent even said their child was recovering from a birthday party – and six students were returned to their schools.


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That figure is slightly down on last December's totals, which saw 344 children stopped, with 33% found to be off school without a good reason.

Debby McKechnie, Suffolk County Council's senior education officer for youth offending and community awareness, co-ordinated the sweeps.

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She said: "It would be nice to say that the figures are down because the message is getting across, but a more realistic reason is that the 2002 sweep was carried out in the last week of term.

"Clearly, we are not getting the message across fully to parents that it is not alright to condone absence for no good reason."

Among the dubious reasons for absence given to truancy sweep teams by parents included shopping for new shoes, visiting family and recovering from a birthday party.

Mrs McKechnie added: "If one were to give these reasons for absence to an employer, the chances are you would find yourself out of a job.

"If parents condone those reasons for a young child then the child itself will get into that habit – there really are very few circumstances that require a youngster to be absent from school.

"Even when parents say their children are unwell they seem to think it's good for them to be taken out around the shops. We would say let the school be the judge."

Parents of children who persistently play truant now face criminal prosecution, with maximum penalties of three months in jail and £2,500 fines.

And the importance of the truancy sweeps was highlighted on the first day of the scheme this year in Ipswich, when two girls reported as missing were found and returned to school by education welfare officers.

"If we hadn't been doing truancy sweeps that day we wouldn't have found them," said Mrs McKechnie. "I think there are two parts to the importance of the sweeps.

"Firstly, the law says that parents must ensure that a child has access to education – it is their right to go to school.

"Secondly, there's evidence that children who are not in school are more likely to get involved in criminal activities, and more likely to become a victim of crime.

"The people that really can make a difference are the parents and we must continue to put the message across.

"At any cost, parents should make sure their children are in school."

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