Truancy crackdown puts 500 city parents in court

Truancy Officer Beverley Findley patrols Parkgate shopping Centre in Rotherham'Tues 14th Mar 2006
Truancy Officer Beverley Findley patrols Parkgate shopping Centre in Rotherham'Tues 14th Mar 2006
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MORE than 500 Sheffield parents have been taken to court over the last five years due to persistent truancy by their children, according to figures obtained by The Star.

Every single case brought before magistrates by the city council during that period has resulted in a conviction - with fines of up to £390 being imposed.

Other parents have been given community service orders, have been ordered to observe curfews or were given conditional discharges.

But no Sheffield parent has yet been jailed over their child’s poor school attendance record - as has happened in Doncaster and Barnsley.

Details were obtained as part of The Star’s Your Right to Know campaign.

Other South Yorkshire councils have been equally keen to prosecute families through the courts.

In Doncaster 572 cases were heard over the same period - with three parents sent to prison for persistent offending.

Many more families in the town were taken to court after failing to pay fixed penalty notices - more than 300, with nearly 250 cases in the 2010-11 school year alone.

Magistrates in Doncaster are the toughest in the county - apart from imposing custodial sentences, they have levied fines of up to £2,500, have ordered parents to carry out up to 200 hours of unpaid work and have given them curfew orders and tags.

In Rotherham 324 parents have been prosecuted over the last five years, while in Barnsley the figure was 402.

Two parents in Barnsley were sent to prison, three were given suspended sentences while 12 were given parenting orders. Most received fines.

While every single case produced a conviction, three parents were given absolute discharges.

Education officials in all four authorities said decisions to prosecute were taken on a case by case basis.

Dawn Walton, Sheffield Council’s assistant director of prevention and early intervention, said: “We take all truancy cases seriously and this is shown in the fact we have successfully prosecuted a number of parents here.

“It is paramount that children and young people are in school or educational provision, in order that they are able to make the most of opportunities to learn.

“Enforcement is an option but prevention and early intervention to avoid chronic poor attendance remains our primary focus.

“Prosecutions are expensive and not always the must appropriate method of making sure truancy numbers are cut. We only ever use prosecution as a last procedure when all other attempts have failed.”

The council worked closely with schools and parents to tackle the root causes of poor attendance, Mrs Walton said.

“There is a clear message to be given to parents and carers about children being in school for every lesson every day. In particular, schools and the local authority actively discourage children being taken out of school in term time.’’