Wales politics

Drop fines for truanting children's parents, inquiry concludes

Plans to allow councils to fine parents of regular truants from school should be dropped, say assembly members.

The threat of fixed penalty notices of up to £120 are due to be introduced next month although ministers do not expect them to be issued for a number of months.

The children's committee inquiry found no support and it said ministers should look for "positive alternatives".

Ministers say the fines would be only one of the tools available to councils.

According to official figures, the average truancy rate for secondary schools in Wales in 2011/12 was 1.4%.

Nine local education authorities (LEA) had higher rates, with the worst being Cardiff at 2.7%.

Although overall absence rates have been slowly decreasing each year since 2005/06, ministers say more needs to be done.

The proposals for fixed penalty notices were announced by the previous Education Minister Leighton Andrews in May.

Huw Lewis took over as minister in June after Mr Andrews resigned.

From the beginning of the new school term, parents could face £60 fixed penalty notices if their children persistently miss lessons, fines which double if they fail to pay within 28 days.

Those who ignore the new regulations could end up in court.

The children's committee Inquiry into Attendance and Behaviour report quotes witnesses describing the policy as "generally not effective" and even "disastrous".

Hugh Pattrick from school governors' body Governors Wales told the inquiry: "If you just issue a fixed penalty notice, without trying to label anybody, some of these people are those with the greatest problems - they have financial problems and other problems.

"All you are doing is piling one thing on top of another and that will be a complete and utter disaster."

Prof Ken Reid, an adviser to the Welsh government on its truancy and behaviour policy, told the inquiry his latest research found one of the significant causes of children missing school was bullying and particularly cyber bullying.

The inquiry report concludes: "The committee is disappointed at the decision to introduce fixed term penalty notices given that none of the witnesses who gave evidence to the committee were supportive of this approach.

"The evidence presented to this inquiry suggests that a reward culture works best and that there are a range of other more positive measures that the Welsh government could take forward in this regard."

'Deprivation'

Plaid Cymru education spokesman Simon Thomas urged ministers to reform support services and administration by local councils "to ensure more money reaches teachers and pupils".

"Rather than fine parents, the Welsh government should do more to support home school liaison officers and increase their number so they can support pupils and their families," he said.

"There is a correlation between areas of high deprivation and high levels of absenteeism."

Liberal Democrat AM Aled Roberts said he remained convinced financial penalties for non-attendance were "a totally counter-productive idea which will cause economic hardship and do nothing to address the problems of a child missing vital school hours".

A Welsh government spokesman said: "We will respond to the committee's report in due course. We're driving forward a range of measures to reduce absenteeism in Wales and we're making good progress.

"The introduction of fixed penalty notices for regular non-attendance at schools is only one tool that local authorities will be able to use to tackle persistent absenteeism.

"We will be issuing clear guidance to local authorities and each local authority will be required to publish a code of practice.

"We have made available £800,000 through grant funding to consortia to help them develop a broad range of strategies to help improve attendance."

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