Truancy fines should be taken from Child Benefit

16 Apr 12
Parents who persistently allow their children to miss school should have their Child Benefit docked, the government’s ‘behaviour czar’ has recommended.

By Vivienne Russell | 16 April 2012

Parents who persistently allow their children to miss school should have their Child Benefit docked, the government’s ‘behaviour czar’ has recommended.

In his report on improving attendance at school, particularly among primary pupils, Charlie Taylor called for increased fines for parents who take their children out of school.

Currently, head teachers and local authorities can impose a £50 fine, which doubles if payment is not made within 28 days. After 42 days of non-payment the fine is either withdrawn or the parents are pursued through the courts. Around half of the fines issued since 2004 are unpaid or have been withdrawn.

Taylor said today that a fine of £60 should be imposed, doubling to £120 after 28 days. Once the fine has doubled, the money should be recovered automatically from Child Benefit. Parents who do not receive Child Benefit should be pursued through the county courts.

Taylor said: ‘We know that some parents simply allow their children to miss lessons and then refuse to pay the fine. It means the penalty has no effect, and children continue to lose vital days of education they can never recover.

‘Recouping the fines through Child Benefit, along with other changes to the overall system, will strengthen and simplify the system. It would give head teacher the backing they need in getting parents to play their part.’

The government has already accepted recommendations to increase the fines, but is considering the proposal to take the money from Child Benefit.

But head teachers’ representatives questioned whether levying fines was the right approach.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘Effectively you're fining the child and their brothers and sisters, not the real offender. Better to work with the families to overcome the reasons.’

Children’s charity Barnardo’s also expressed concern. Chief executive Anne Marie Carrie 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.  

‘When the government looks at the recommendations of Charlie Taylor’s report, they need to be mindful of getting the balance right between enforcing sanctions on parents, and supporting families to tackle the root causes of non-attendance.’

Carrie added that early intervention approaches, for example through parenting classes, were likely to be more effective.

Other recommendations in Taylor’s report included: publishing data on attendance in reception class; encouraging primary schools to analyse absentee data to spot patterns; and asking Ofsted to set specific targets to improve attendance in schools where it is low.

Commenting on the report, Education Secretary Michael Gove said tackling the attendance of younger children signalled a fundamental change of approach and would reduce the number who developed truancy problems when they were older.


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