Truants' parents could face benefits cut, says PM


Prime Minister, David Cameron: "I know this will be a tough measure"

Parents of children in England who regularly play truant could have their benefits cut, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

The government's social policy review, set up in the wake of the recent riots, has been asked to consider the move, he said in a speech about education.

Discipline and rigour were needed to mend a "broken society", he said.

And parents needed to know there were consequences to their inaction, he added.

Speaking on Friday, Mr Cameron said discipline needed to be restored in schools, and teachers and head teachers were being given the tools to do this.


He added: "But restoring discipline is also about what parents do. We need parents to have a real stake in the discipline of their children, to face real consequences if their children continually misbehave.

"That's why I have asked our social policy review to look into whether we should cut the benefits of those parents whose children constantly play truant.

Start Quote

We want to create an education system based on real excellence, with a complete intolerance of failure.”

End Quote David Cameron

"Yes, this would be a tough measure - but we urgently need to restore order and respect in the classroom and I don't want ideas like this to be off the table."

Plans to cut benefits payments of parents whose children played truant were brought forward under Tony Blair's Labour government, but were scrapped in 2002.

Instead, penalty notices for truancy were introduced. These can be issued to parents by head teachers, council officers and the police and lead to fines of £50 - doubled to £100 if parents fail to pay up in 42 days.

If these fines remain unpaid for a further 42 days, a prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000 can follow.

Between 2004 to August 2009, 69,436 penalty notices were issued for irregular attendance; 88 were issued for excluded pupils found in a public place during school hours since September 2007.

'Intolerance of failure'

Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "What is needed to improve pupil attainment is adequate resourcing for all schools, properly qualified and reflective teachers, and continuing funding for family and youth services to support those pupils and families who need it.

"Alienating the parents of persistent truants is not likely to help - these are the parents who need the most support with their children to get them to participate in education and training."

Mr Cameron made the comments at the opening of one of England's first free schools, the Norwich Free School.

He said he wanted to see schools like it "replicated many, many times up and down the country".

Critics have called free schools, which are state-funded but privately run, socially divisive and unaccountable.

The schools are being set up by parents, teachers, faith groups and other organisations.

Some Lib Dems have opposed free schools amid fears they could be socially divisive, but Mr Cameron says both parties are behind the scheme.

"A free school is born of a real passion for education - a belief in its power to change lives.

"It's a passion and a belief this coalition shares. We want to want to create an education system based on real excellence, with a complete intolerance of failure," he said.

Twenty-four out of the first wave of free schools are opening this term.

They operate as academies, and like them, do not have to follow the national curriculum, can vary the pay and conditions of teachers, are directly funded by central government and are outside of local authority control.

'Good citizens'

The government says free schools will meet parental demand in areas where there is a shortage of places, and help drive up standards by providing competition.

But critics argue they will take pupils and money from other schools at a time of cutbacks and could break up the state education system.

Of the 24 free schools opening this month, nine are faith-based or have strong religious ethos, six are parent- or teacher-led and five will be run by trusts already running academies.

Mr Cameron also said that classroom reforms were required to produce a new generation of "good citizens".

He said: "We've got to be ambitious if we want to compete in the world. When China is going through an educational renaissance, when India is churning out science graduates any complacency now would be fatal for our prosperity.

"And we've got to be ambitious, too, if we want to mend our broken society.

"Because education doesn't just give people the tools to make a good living - it gives them the character to live a good life, to be good citizens."

But the National Union of Teachers said the free schools and academies programme was "a divisive and unnecessary experiment".

Its general secretary, Christine Blower, said government cuts were hitting the youth provision and local support services which she said were needed to help ensure young people could reach their potential and be good citizens.

Bradford Science Academy Rainbow Free School, Bradford Batley Grammar School, Kirklees Maharishi School, Lancashire Sandbach School, Cheshire East Nishkam Free School, Birmingham Krishna Avanti Primary School, Leicester Priors Free School, Warwickshire The Free School, Norwich Stour Valley Community School, Suffolk Moorlands School, Luton Langley Hall Primary Academy, Slough Bristol Free School, Bristol All Saints Junior School, Reading Discovery New School, West Sussex Aldborough E-ACT Free School, Redbridge Eden Primary, Haringey, North London Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School, Mill Hill, London Ark Atwood Primary Academy, Westminster Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy, Edmonton, London West London Free School, Hammersmith, London Ark Conway Primary Academy, Hammersmith & Fulham Canary Wharf College, Tower Hamlets St Luke's Church of England Primary School, Camden, north London

Bradford Science Academy

Secondary school, taking 140 children a year. Led by Bradford-born teacher Sajid Hussain.

Rainbow Free School, Bradford

Primary school set up by the social enterprise body Asian Trade Link, with support from cricketer Imran Khan.

Batley Grammar School, Kirklees

Mixed private school returning to the state sector under the free schools programme.

Maharishi School, Lancashire

Non-selective independent school for ages 4 - 16. Teaches transcendental meditation and is transferring to the state sector.

Sandbach School, Cheshire East

Boys' secondary school which was technically independent, but fully-funded by Cheshire County Council and a local authority school.

Nishkam Free School, Birmingham

Primary school run by the Nishkam Education Trust "the first state-funded, Sikh ethos, multi-faith school in the Midlands".

Krishna Avanti Primary School, Leicester

Hindu faith school run by the I-Foundation. Children will eat vegetarian meals and practice yoga and meditation.

Priors Free School, Warwickshire

Small private primary school with just 60 places, returning to the state sector.

The Free School, Norwich

A primary school opening in a Georgian house which was previously used as offices.

Stour Valley Community School, Suffolk

Secondary school set up after a campaign by parents, on the site of an existing middle school was facing closure.

Moorlands School, Luton

An independent prep school transferring to the state sector.

Langley Hall Primary Academy, Slough

Set up by a husband and wife team, the school is "underpinned by Christian principles".

Bristol Free School, Bristol

Parent-led secondary school, opening to Year 7 pupils in temporary buildings. An educational trust will run the school.

All Saints Junior School, Reading

School for 7 to 11 year olds, run by the educational trust CfBT. It will take up to 25 children, all in its youngest age group, each year.

Discovery New School, West Sussex

Montessori primary school with "a Christian character in the Anglican tradition".

Aldborough E-ACT Free School, Redbridge

Primary school run by a charitable trust set up by E-ACT

Eden Primary, Haringey, North London

Jewish primary school "independent of any synagogue authority" and open to all members of the Jewish community.

Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School, Mill Hill, London

Jewish primary with "very strong link with the local community and Mill Hill United Synagogue". Space for 28 children in reception.

Ark Atwood Primary Academy, Westminster

Primary school run by the education charity Ark.

Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy, Edmonton, London

"Sister school" to a nearby over-subscribed primary, Cuckoo Hall Academy. Will eventually have 420 pupils.

West London Free School, Hammersmith, London

Mixed, non-selective secondary taking 120 pupils a year, set up by a parents' group led by writer Toby Young, as a "grammar school for all".

Ark Conway Primary Academy, Hammersmith & Fulham

One-form entry school set up by the Ark education charity.

Canary Wharf College, Tower Hamlets

Christian school with an average class size of 20. Open for children in reception, Year 1 and Year 2.

St Luke's Church of England Primary School, Camden, north London

Parent- and church-led, set up in a church hall, with places for those living closest to the school.

More on This Story

Academies and free schools

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  • rate this

    Comment number 828.

    That is a stupid idea. I took my son to school each day for 12 weeks. At breaktime he fled the school and did not re-appear until I took him again the next day. Was I supposed to give up work and claim benefits in order to go to school with him, and stay there WITH him all day? He hated school. there was nothing I or the teachers could do to get him to stay there all day!

  • rate this

    Comment number 803.

    Whilst, it sounds like a good idea to penalise the parents for their child's actions, it isn't just family's receiving benefits that have truant issues. If this goes ahead, it is almost one rule for "x" and another rule for "y".

    In my schooling, it was a mixed background group of students' who decided to truant - simply because they were bored. Introduce a tougher, more challenging Curriculum!

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    Why does this Government hate claimants & label us all as spongers & scivers? We are not. I am a claimant because I was made redundant & need financial support so my family can survive. I spend everyday trying to find work. My kids attend school everyday, work hard, achieve & do not commit crimes. I hate claiming & cannot wait to stop. Please stop your hatred, hounding & victimisation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    I strongly object to Cameron's inference that there is no passion or striving for excellence in the state sector. I have spent most of the last thirty years working as a school governor to try and help provide the best and most appropriate eduction so that every child has the opportunity to achieve their potential. Government cuts and reorganisations have often impeded rather than helped.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    Incidentally - I am a full-time employee (and was at the time) and tried my damnedest to make my daughter go to school and stay there, so lay off those on benefits, this is a problem across the board. What is the proposal for parents whose children truant who are not on benefits at all, or only on a minimal amount of benefit?


Comments 5 of 7


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