The report on Truancy by Charlie Taylor, the governments expert advisor, suggests fining parents whose children play truant. He suggests that schools should impose fines of £60 rising to £120 if they are not paid within 28 days and if they remain unpaid, then they should be automatically deducted from the parents Child Benefit. Truancy has been a growing problem in some areas for some time and some action needs to be taken but is deducting Child Benefit the answer?
Take an example known to me. A teenager played truant and his mother, a teacher at a different school was informed.that her son was not attending school. To make sure that he did attend she started to drive him to school ensuring that he went into the school building and not leaving until he did. However once inside and certain that his mother had left, he walked out. When challenged the school said it was not their responsibility to ensure that children stayed, which to my mind begs the question of who is responsible.
The problem with imposing fines is that the most vulnerable are the most affected. A family with an income of, say, £60,000 is hardly likely to quibble about a £60 fine whilst a single mother on income support is going to be drastically hit if a fine is imposed on her Child Benefit. As Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo's, said: "All primary school children should be in class – that is non-negotiable. However, docking unpaid fines from child benefit risks punishing the pupils as well as the parents by penalising already deprived families. Barnardo's experience shows that the most effective way to improve children's attendance is to intervene early to deal with any underlying problems within the family – for example through parenting classes." The problem is that fixed amount fines penalise the most vulnerable in society.
In an interview on Channel 4 News last night there was a girl who had constantly played truant. Her school record was appalling with, understandably, very low grades, She was helped by the Princes Trust and given a mentor. She was allocated a place in a Pupil Referral Unit which she now attends regularly and has achieved high grades in her exams. She said that she now finds the lessons enjoyable and interesting whilst the teachers, being in much smaller units I suspect, care for the pupils individually. Perhaps the answer to truancy is the use of skilled counsellors interviewing the offending child and the parents to discover why the child prefers to wander around rather than attend lessons.