Don’t punish parents for school truancy

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MORE than 5,400 Sheffield pupils missed a whole month of lessons during the last school year.

Around 64,000 kids skip school every day across the country.

Truancy is a huge problem everywhere and many parents just don’t know what to do about it.

For Sheffield the problem was worst in secondary schools where more than one in 10 youngsters - 11.7 per cent - were absent from school for 15 per cent or more of the time.

Parents worry about what their children are doing when they skip school and many are also scared of being fined or even jailed themselves.

Help may be on the way - of sorts.

Parenting experts believe family support rather than punishment is the key to combating truancy.

A report from the charity Family Lives has identified growing levels of concern from parents of children who truant, and says the best way to tackle the problem is for the Government to consider non-punitive measures to combat truancy, such as encouraging all schools to offer family support.

Anastasia de Waal, chairwoman of Family Lives, says: “Truancy is a significant problem for schools, families and children alike.

“Many of the parents Family Lives works with have experienced a breakdown in the parent-child relationship that leaves them unable to enforce boundaries. They’ve tried everything they can think of to persuade, cajole, bribe or force their children to attend school and have nothing left to try.”

De Waal explains that there’s usually an underlying reason for truancy, and the report found four main causes. These were:

Home and parental pressures, including a lack of parental engagement in their child’s education and learning, or a chaotic home environment.

Peer relationships, most significantly bullying which can make children frightened of going to school.

School-based reasons, including problems with the system, or leadership issues.

Problems with the child, including low self-esteem, educational disadvantage and mental health issues.

“Most children enjoy going to school, and if they’re not going, it’s usually because there’s a problem,” stresses de Waal.

“If we want to tackle truancy, it’s not about telling kids it’s good for them and their education to go to school - they know that. The reason they’re missing school needs to be identified.”

Truants are often not just missing out on their education, but engaging in risky behaviour which could hurt both them and others, including drug and alcohol use, and theft.

“These risky behaviours are an added worry for parents, and punishing parents isn’t the answer,” says de Waal.

“We’ve got to look at the underlying problems and find out why a child is truanting. The way to do that is to work with the parents, not against them.”

She says ideally parents of children who truant should talk to the child’s teacher and/or other staff at the school to try to identify a way forward.

“But parents feel like they’re the bad guys, and it’s not a question of turning for support, but instead that they feel like they’re at fault. They sometimes feel ashamed and that they’ll get into trouble.

“This is the problem, and it’s a lot to do with the attitude that’s been taken - doing things like fining parents is not an effective solution.”

She says Family Lives has examined the evidence supporting the use of punitive measures for the parents of truants, and has found that in many cases a supportive approach would be more effective.

The charity suggests that the Government should consider how to encourage all schools to offer family support, and look at how to share good practice between schools.

It also wants schools to think about how to get parents involved in their child’s education, although it points out that while this can improve children’s attendance, many parents feel there are barriers against them getting involved, which may include their own poor experience of education.

De Waal stresses: “Active family support can give parents new skills to get the parent-child relationship back on track, empower the parent to regain their position of authority and help them to enforce boundaries.”