Hundreds of parents prosecuted for child truancy

by Sean Axtell

Hundreds of parents are being prosecuted for taking their children out of Kent and Medway schools without permission, new figures reveal.

According to the latest statistics provided by the Ministry of Justice, the number of people taken to court for unauthorised absences were 646 in 2016.

The figures, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, show 585 people were taken to court in 2015, 887 in 2014 and 1,075 in 2013.

School children in a classroom. Stock image.

Ming Zhang is KCC’s head of service for pupil attendance, and believes the falling numbers are owed to early intervention.

He said: “Before more people were being prosecuted, but now we have an Early Help service which acts to identify and assist people who want their children to get to school but can’t for legitimate reasons.

“Children can truant for so many different reasons, it could be financial or there could be domestic violence involved.”

He added lack of parenting skills and mental and physical health problems are also common themes in child truancy.

Truancy figures from the Ministry of Justice. 'LJA' stands for Local Justice Area

“We only tend to prosecute those parents who can’t be bothered or don’t believe in education for their children.

“There is a lot of evidence from published studies showing the importance of attendance and education.”

Under Department for Education guidelines, parents are only permitted to take their children out of school in “exceptional circumstances”, such as attending a family member’s funeral.

Alongside poorer job prospects, Mr Zhang said children who truant are at more risk of being the victim of crime or getting involved in crime.

The new figures show in 2016 North Kent had 317 prosecutions, Mid Kent had 191, and East Kent had 138.

Parents who take a child out of school without permission, for any reason, can face a fine of £60, rising to £120 if it is not paid quickly

It comes as the authority looks at fresh initiatives to tackle offending parents.

KKC officers alongside Kent Police’s School Attendance Officers have reignited a joint anti-truancy operation, which had not been carried out in Kent for nearly 10 years.

The operation of regular truancy sweeps started again this month with the first day of the operation stopping 16 school-aged children in Folkestone during the school hours. Among them, seven children were with their parents when they were stopped.

The reasons given for missing school included illness, exclusion and medical appointments.

A child as young as six was found not to be in school in the crackdown

One grandparent was challenged by officers as to why her grand-daughter was shopping with her when the child’s mother had told staff the pupil had flu and was too ill to attend school.

A Year 12 pupil was found in the town centre after he was excluded from a local secondary school.

The youngster was warned by the officers that by law an excluded student must not be in any public place during school hours.

KCC is considering taking legal action against the parents for allowing him to be in the town centre while being excluded. For such an infringement, parents can be fined by the Local Authority.

Under Department for Education guidelines, parents are only permitted to take their children out of school in “exceptional circumstance"

A six-year-old girl was found with her mother, who explained the child had head lice and was therefore unable to attend school. The mother was rapped by an officer and the school was notified.

Sergeant Simon Drew from Kent Police added: “Children who miss school and frequent public places during school hours do not only miss out on educational opportunities, they are also at risk of being drawn into crime, drugs and anti-social behaviour.

“Kent Police has a shared interest with the Local Authority to reduce the number of school children missing education or being excluded from school.”

Parents who take a child out of school without permission, for any reason, can face a fine of £60, rising to £120 if it is not paid quickly. Those who do not pay can face prosecution.

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