Parents take the rap for truants

Truanting children have landed hundreds of North-East parents with fines or facing prosecution, official figures have revealed.

Truanting children have landed hundreds of North-East parents with fines or facing prosecution, official figures have revealed.

Department for Education statistics show more than 800 penalty notices - costing up to £100 - were issued to parents by education chiefs for unauthorised absences of children last year.

Under the system, parents face a penalty of £50 if it is paid within 28 days or £100 if the money is handed over within 42 days - which amounted to more than £17,000 last year.

And in 269 cases, parents who failed to pay fines faced prosecution from their local education authority for the offence of failing to ensure regular school attendance of their children.

The news comes just weeks after more than 13,000 children in the region were identified as serial truants and ministers called on parents to get them to school.

Around half of pupils caught on truancy sweeps were found with an adult unable to give a good reason for their absence.

Newcastle City Council has led the way in the North-East in using penalty notices by issuing 365 last year, out of a regional total of 837, and prosecuting 191 cases following non-payment.

Durham County Council issued 198 fines, the second highest total in the North-East, and took legal action in 28 cases. But Gateshead, Sunderland and Stockton did not issue any penalty notices.

Newcastle MP Nick Brown said he supported the city council's "broad approach" and added: "Schooling is essential for young people if they are to get a decent start in life."

Charity Parentline Plus, which has a centre in Newcastle, said parents needed help rather than blame while some absences could be down to children being removed because of bullying or schools not engaging with them.

A spokeswoman added parents might take children to school but could not sit in class with them to ensure they went to lessons.

Ian Clennell, head of Newcastle City Council's education welfare service, said regular attendance was essential if pupils were to do well at school and in work. He added: "We take repeated absence very seriously and make it clear to pupils and their parents that we can, and will, take action if this becomes necessary.

"Penalty notices are one of the ways in which we can take appropriate action against parents who repeatedly allow their children to miss school."

But Mr Clennell stressed the council preferred to work with families and schools to address reasons for children's absences, while initiatives and rewards were available to encourage attendance.

Ian Shanks, from access and pupil services at Durham County Council, said: "Children only have one chance to get the best out of their education, so it is vital that they attend school regularly. Where possible, we would prefer to work with parents to ensure their children attend school but we will not hesitate to issue fixed penalty notices or take court action if necessary."

He added attendance in secondary schools in County Durham had improved for the last seven years, with the council investing more than £5m in improving attendance and behaviour.

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said more than 4,500 penalty notices were issued nationally last year to give parents a "sharp reminder" of their responsibilities.

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