The number of parents taken to court in England because of children missing school rose by a quarter last year, it has been revealed.
The figures have risen by more than 3,000 to 16,430 prosecutions and follows a crackdown on children missing school, including new rules on term-time holidays, which were introduced two years ago.
Ministry of Justice figures, obtained by the Press Association, revealed more than three-quarters were found guilty.
Head teachers’ leaders said good attendance was “absolutely critical”.
The 2014 figures, gathered in a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice, show:
- 12,479 people found guilty of truancy offences – up 22%
- 9,214 fines, averaging £172, issued by courts – up 30%
- 18 jail sentences in 2014 – compared with seven in 2013
- Ten of those jailed and more than half (58%) of those fined for a child missing school were women
Parents can be issued with on-the-spot penalty notices of £60 per child by schools, rising to £120 if unpaid after three weeks, if their child has an unauthorised absence.
Failure to pay, or incurring two or more fines, can lead to parents being referred to the local authority’s education welfare service, which has the power to take them to court.
Courts can issue maximum fines of £2,500 or jail sentences of up to three months.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the BBC: “Good attendance is absolutely critical to the education and future prospects of young people.
“Schools have rightly responded to this overwhelming evidence by taking a strong line in identifying when children are absent without a valid reason, particularly where there is persistent truancy.”
But David Simmonds, of the Local Government Association, said the increase in fines reflected “tighter enforcement by schools that are under pressure from Ofsted to meet attendance targets”, as well as a rising school population.
He called for more flexibility in the rules to allow head teachers to take account of family circumstances where absence was unavoidable.
They “should be trusted to make decisions about a child’s absence from school without being forced to issue fines and start prosecutions in situations where they believe the absence is reasonable”, he said.
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