There must be many parents with an eye on the sunshine and another on late holiday deals, thinking how bad can it be if I take my child out of class for a couple of weeks in July – don’t they sit around doing nothing anyway?

Seriously how bad can it be?

Attending school is perhaps one of the more important things in your life.  As much as it pains me to say it, that’s the truth.  I remember the many days where I was sat in a classroom learning something which I thought would never be useful, wondering if I would ever get free.  Some subjects were truly terrible, others were interesting and actually grabbed me.  However, this feeling of wondering and joy was by no means universal.

Of course, some pupils dislike school to the degree where they skip classes now and again.  In fact, others go far enough as to be branded as ‘truants’ by their school, the government and the Local Education Authority (LEA) in charge of your area.

The letter of the law makes it a legal requirement for children to be in full-time education, at present, until the year in which they are 17 – in 2015 this will be increased until they are 18.  The official government language is this:

“Children must get an education between the school term after their 5th birthday and the last Friday in June in the school year they turn 16.” – In effect, you’ll turn 17 before the next school year begins.

Failing to provide a children with an education (whether it be at school or as part of a home education) can subject parents to warnings, guidance on how to improve this and eventually prosecution.

The only acceptable reasons for absence, according to the government, are if they are too ill to attend school or if you have prior permission first.  This is down to the headteacher and is not a right – headteachers in schools now have guidelines on how to authorise absence.  At the moment, authorisation is only permitted in the case of ‘exceptional circumstances’ – again, this is down to the headteacher.

Back in March, the government released their figures on truancy and the fines dished out to parents.  Despite levels of truancy falling greatly over the last few years, the number of parents being issued with fines has reached record levels.

Interestingly, 20% of these fines are each year not actually ever paid.  Local councils and LEAs are often unwilling to chase up fines because of the cost, according to the BBC.

Earlier this month, Education Secretary Michael Gove made a speech to a think-tank, where he issued a stern warning to parents by announcing new measure that are to be taken – all to reduce the levels of truancy in the UK.

To be honest, it was pretty vaguely done – there wasn’t much in the way of hard fact.  However, what we do know is that Gove has promised tougher penalties designed to eliminate the “root causes of truancy and misbehaviour.”

We can only speculate on some of these policies that are to come into force.  I suspect the fines will be heavier and parents will get less warnings before they are fined or prosecuted.  I also suspect that, with 20% of fines being unpaid, councils will be given powers to collect fines in a more cost-effective manner.

The BBC also reported that it understands that, for those parents who refuse to pay out the fines, their child benefit will be reduced in order to meet the cost of the fine.  Seems reasonably straightforward for the government – as long as the system is actually efficient then I can imagine the government collected a large proportion of the unpaid fines.

It is, however, not the first time this particular measure has been proposed to the government – the idea was raised in 2011 by the government’s special advisor on school discipline.  Interestingly, the idea was shot down by the Liberal Democrats.  Now it seems that this one might actually get through.  The full details are set to be released sometime later this year.

The reaction towards the proposals has been rather mixed – The Guardian printed a less-than-flattering article about it by Michele Hanson, arguing that using the word ‘benefits’ in the speech and targeting this particular area shows clearly where the government is aiming.  It is a fair point, as the system changed last year so that it is means-tested and so doesn’t include the top-earning households.  On the other hand, the richer households are potentially going to find such fines much easier to pay anyhow, so eventually the money is still coming back to the government in one shape or form, regardless of if it’s in the form of benefit payments or from an actual fine.

Many people argue that parents should do what they can to ensure that their kids get into school and that’s fair enough – many parents make a point of dropping their kids off at school.  But, as Ms Hanson points out, there’s always a back gate.  Then it becomes a question of ‘have the parents done enough?’

I guess you could argue that parents who drop their kids off at school have done their bit – the children are now in the care of the school.  That said, if the child then still truants from there – isn’t that where the parents need to teach them about staying in school and actually going to class?  I guess schools have a responsibility too, but clearly that’s only the case when they’ve actually got care of the children.

You could put this entirely on parents and hold them accountable all the time, but sometimes parents have actually done what they can – they can’t stand over their kids all day.  It does seem a little unfair to indiscriminately fine parents or remove child benefit in that sense.  However, the system is made in such a way that finding out the truth would take forever – that would mean constantly monitoring kids.  Not an easy area to navigate into.

I applaud the idea of making it tougher on truancy, don’t get me wrong.  But upping the fines and making them more stringent?  Not sure if this is the right idea.  You can’t blame a parent to much if they walk to the kids to school, only to find later that they walked out again.




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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.