Parents face legal action for failing to tackle truancy

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PARENTS who repeatedly fail to send their children to school are to be prosecuted in Edinburgh for the first time.

It has emerged that a total of 23 cases are currently being reviewed for prosecution and have been referred to a group set up to monitor parents and children who have been persistently skipping school over the last year, as part of the local authority’s attempts to clamp down on repeat non-attenders.

The Area Attendance Order Review Group, which includes headteachers, deputy heads and welfare officers, will then make a decision on whether to press for court action.

It was set up in October 2010 to make it easier and quicker for the city council to push for prosecution of parents of both primary and secondary school pupils in extreme cases of truancy, with the first cases likely to take place over the coming months.

It is understood that the legal process has been ruled out in the past because it would often take longer than the child’s time in education.

As prosecutions have been so rare in Scotland, it is unclear what the sanctions might be, but in England parents can get a maximum fine of £2500, a community order or, in extreme cases, a jail sentence of up to three months.

The city council underlined that secondary school attendance had improved slightly over the last four years.

A spokeswoman said: “We work hard with the parents of persistent non-attenders to ensure that they are fully aware of this responsibility.

“Although the number of absentees is going down, it is important that appropriate measures are taken to deal with the parents of pupils who repeatedly miss school for no legitimate reason.

“Some serious cases may lead to prosecution and we are currently putting in place the necessary procedures to allow such prosecutions to proceed.”

Strategies to improve attendance and manage absence already in place in the Capital include weekly monitoring of attendance which is less than 50 per cent. A range of support is also offered to vulnerable youngsters with attendance rates of less than five per cent, including a phased return to school and a flexible timetable.

Labour’s education spokesman, Paul Godzik, welcomed the move to prosecute parents in extreme cases.

He said: “These are extremely serious cases. It’s not just a few days where there’s been a family emergency. It is a serious and repeat absence from school where there is almost a parental neglect element, so I think the council is right to investigate the circumstances and certainly to investigate whether prosecution is appropriate action.

“I hope that it won’t come to that but certainly I think the council is right to to ensure that parents do take these issues extremely seriously.”