Suffolk: Truancy lands hundreds of parents in court

A TOTAL of 432 Suffolk parents have been taken to court after failing to ensure their children attended school in the last three years.

Education bosses said a “significant minority” of parents were ignoring their legal responsibility, adding that the current economic climate and the low prices of term-time holidays could be a factor in truancy.

In 2011, 155 parents were taken to court after consistent non-attendance of lessons and ignoring support offered. In 2010, 156 parents were prosecuted, 35 higher than the 121 who faced magistrates in 2009.

Parents face an average fine of �165 if convicted, but also run the risk of a prison sentence.

Adrian Orr, Suffolk County Council’s senior adviser for social inclusion, said: “Two weeks off for holiday followed by a few days off for flu and days off for other sickness can add up to about four weeks’ absence.

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“If that happens every year, research evidence suggests that a child’s GCSE results are lowered by one whole grade.”

Mr Orr, who said the increase on 2009’s figures could be due to their robust stance on term-time holidays, added: “We are in a challenging economic climate and prices of holidays go up at the beginning of the holiday period. Our challenge is to get parents to ask ‘What is the real price of a cheap holiday?’

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“Long term it could affect their child’s attainment. Term-time holidays should only be authorised in exceptional circumstances.”

Mr Orr said the decision to prosecute parents was taken as a last resort if unauthorised absences continued despite warning letters, meetings and support from schools and education welfare officers. Although 155 parents were taken to court last year, about 650 attendance cases were opened after a child’s attendance dipped below 85%.

Mr Orr said: “During ongoing truancy sweeps, when children are stopped, many are with a parent or guardian.”

The drive to push down unauthorised absences is part of Raising the Bar, a scheme to boost attainment and aspiration in Suffolk.

In April the Government’s expert adviser on behaviour, Charlie Taylor, said headteachers should be able to impose increased fines on parents whose children miss school without a valid reason. The proposals would allow schools to impose fines of �60 for truancy, rising to �120 if they are not paid within 28 days.

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