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Written evidence submitted by Dr Geraldine Brown (Assistant Professor at Coventry University); Rona Epstein (Honorary Fellow at Coventry University); Dr Sarah O'Flynn (Principal Lecturer at Roehampton University)

In 2018, our team carried out a study exploring the prosecution of parents whose children have missed school.  The research was an attempt to capture the views and experiences of parents whose voices are often missing from public discourse and strategies to improve school attendance.  We wanted to look beyond a dominant narrative in which parents are deemed to be ‘failing’ their child/ ren and responsible for their poor attendance, to uncover their lived reality and better understand factors that contributed to poor attendance and may lead to parents coming to the attention of the criminal justice system.  As such, our study set out to explore the reasons underpinning children failing to attend school regularly, what problems this created for the family, the parents’ views of how the schools tackled their child’s problems, and whether or not the parents were prosecuted or threatened with prosecution. 

Revisiting the law

Our study started with an examination of the legal framework. In England and Wales, the offence of truancy is deemed to have been committed by parents or carers of school age children whose children have not attended school regularly.  Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 sets out a parental duty to secure the efficient education of children by ensuring the child’s regular attendance at school or otherwise.  If the child fails to attend school regularly the parent is guilty of an offence.  Under Subsection 444 (1) the offence is strict liability; the parent is not required to know that the child has missed school.  If, for example, the child was living with her grandmother and missed school, the child’s parents would be liable for prosecution for their child’s truancy, even if they did not know she was missing school.  Under Subsection 444 (1A) there is a further offence if the parent knew about the child’s absence and failed to act. The punishment can be a fine up to £2,500 or a term of imprisonment.

At the time of conducting the study statistics showed that:

Approach

 

 

Lessons learnt from our work

Children missing school

Taken off the school roll

 

 

Lack of resources

The parents

Families under particular stress

 

 

Bullying

Prosecutions and fines

 

How parents can complain

Where next?

We can only report on our sample of 126 parents and their children.  At the time of our study statistics indicated a further 16,400 families who had come to the attention of the criminal justice system for truancy.  Further research is needed and the government is best place to collaborate with researchers to undertake this work, as the Ministry of Justice has the data identifying these parents. We believe it is important to know how many of these families have children with SEND and what role this has played in their absence from school.

Alternative approaches

Reflections

The data highlights how the prosecution of parents for a child/ren missing school is a punitive approach that leads to harm to parents, children and vulnerable families.  It also appears to be ineffective in getting reluctant and fearful children back into the classroom. 

Access to the full report:  https://covrj.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/PROSECUTINGParents.pdf