Truancy court cases up dramatically

The number of parents taken to court over their child's truancy has rocketed, with almost 13,000 facing charges last year, official figures show.

New data reveals that record numbers are facing prosecution for failing to ensure their child goes to school, with those convicted often fined, and in some cases, handed a jail sentence.

In 2011, the equivalent of 67 parents or guardians were subject to criminal proceedings every day of the school year. Of those found guilty, 11 were jailed, with an average sentence of just over one month.

The figures, obtained by the Press Association through a Freedom of Information request, show that 12,777 people in England and Wales were prosecuted for two truancy-related offences under the Education Act 1996 in 2011 - the last year for which figures are available. This is up from 11,757 prosecutions in 2010, and 11,188 in 2009.

Of those taken to court in 2011, more than three in four - 9,836 in total - were found guilty. Around two thirds of those convicted - 6,438 people - were issued with fines.

The figures show that 2,543 people were given a conditional discharge, 154 were given an absolute discharge, 473 were handed a community sentence, 82 were handed a suspended sentence and 135 were dealt with in another way.

Around two thirds of those prosecuted were women, the figures show, as were eight of the 11 sent to jail.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said there is now a high level of attendance in schools, with strong accountability measures keep a check on it. He said: "There are electronic systems that monitor not only attendance in school but also during lessons. Where there is a persistent problem, the evidence is there very quickly."

This means that there would be a strong case if it was decided that a parent should be taken to court, Mr Lightman said. But he added: "That would be seen as a very last resort."

The latest truancy figures, published by the Department for Education (DfE) in October showed that around 56,500 primary and secondary pupils were missing from lessons without permission on a typical day in the autumn and spring terms of 2011/12.

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