Truancy prosecutions in Wales rise 700% over five years

Court cases for failing to send a child to school rose from 60 in 2007 to nearly 500 in 2011.

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Prosecutions of parents in Wales for truancy by their children have risen 700% over the past five years, BBC Wales has found.

Court cases for failing to send a child to school rocketed from 60 in 2007 to nearly 500 in 2011.

Merthyr Tydfil council said asking for conditional discharges had been more successful than fining parents.

But Education Minister Leighton Andrews said fines were one aspect of policy to tackle truancy.

On-the-spot fines

BBC Wales' Week In Week Out went behind the scenes with Merthyr council officers, whose education department was put in special measures last month.

Case study: Suzanne Lewis

Suzanne Lewis

Suzanne Lewis has a suspended prison sentence over daughter Shauna's school attendance record.

She said: "They want to see me getting her to the school gates. That's what we've done.

"We've got up in the morning, taken her to the school and then we've had phone calls [to] pick her back up, perhaps an hour after.

"She won't go into class with the other children and she will not do any work. I'll most probably end up in prison because of it."

Shauna said: "Mam shouldn't be going through that really because it's not her fault why all this has happened.

"I do feel guilty sometimes. I was scared in case they put her in prison because I don't know what I'd do without my mam."

The council said asking magistrates to impose conditional discharge sentences - requiring parents to co-operate with the authority or face a return to court and possible jail term - has been much more successful than handing out fines.

The Welsh government has finished a consultation on £120 on-the-spot fines for parents who fail to send their children to school.

Councils in England issued more than 30,000 spot fines last year but attendance rates have not improved.

One parent, Gavin Vanden Berg, told the programme that he did not think fines would work. His 15-year-old son Brandon has a sporadic attendance at school.

"If a parent is really trying their best to get their child to school, other than physically taking them to the school themselves, what else can they do?" he said.

Prof Ken Reid, an adviser to the Welsh government on its truancy and behaviour policy, said fining parents was the wrong approach.

"All the evidence from research in England is that actually they don't work at all. All the legal penalties we've had over the last 50 or 60 years on truancy have never made much difference and have never worked."

Behaviour and attendance

Mike Cotton, a former school governor and father of four from Morriston, Swansea, said truancy was a "major problem, even with quite intelligent children", and the 700% increase was "absolutely amazing".

He added that parents have overall responsibility for their children, and "teachers are there to teach, not be social workers".

Education Minister Leighton Andrews told Week In Week Out that penalty notices were just one aspect of a national policy to tackle truancy in Wales, based on recommendations made by Prof Reid.

But four years after writing his report, Prof Reid was disappointed with the progress.

"There is no national strategy at all yet on behaviour and attendance despite the assurances we were given that it would happen four years ago."

Week In Week Out - Parents on Trial is on BBC One Wales, at 22:35 GMT, Tuesday 5 March.

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