HARD-PRESSED parents have voiced their anger at being penalised when their children miss school for what they claim are good reasons.
Fining and even imprisoning parents when children are absent from school is hitting those families most in need of support and may be failing to address the problem, new Coventry University research shows.
Parents across the region whose children were bullied, had special needs or long term health problems, felt their sons and daughters were simply being labelled truants.
A Coventry mum said her 15 year-old son struggled with anxiety.
She said: “He is frightened that something might happen to the family when he is at school.
“Also he is bullied and he keeps saying he is scared. He can sometimes go in and sometimes he can’t.
“We were fined £500. We did pay the fine but it was difficult to pay it. Also, we each had to do 25 days probation.”
A Warwickshire mum was fined because her ten-year-old autistic son was also bullied. His school made adjustments for him, but could not provide the one-to-one support he needed.
“They tried. His teacher was excellent in Year 6. She reduced his timetable, but the poor teacher couldn’t look after him and 30 other children.
“I wish that the local authority could provide more support in the home, even online learning, to help keep him on track with the curriculum.
“It would mean he could slip into education when he is ready.”
Another Warwickshire mum’s 12 year-old son attends school five hours a week.
He has serious long-term physical health problems as well as anxiety, depression and dyspraxia. He has been reluctant to attend school for four years and she has been fined as a result.
“He experienced bullying before he dropped out permanently.
“He struggled socially due to chronic low self esteem. The health crisis and the adults around him telling him he was making things up and wasn’t ill led to a complete breakdown emotionally and psychologically for my son and meant he didn’t trust his teachers to keep him safe.
“Anxiety was not recognised or understood by the school, developmental trauma and attachment issues is also not understood.”
The Coventry University report ‘Prosecuting parents for truancy: Who pays the price?’ highlights it was most commonly children being bullied or with special education needs who were regularly missing school, and families felt their needs were not being adequately met in the education system.
It recommends rather than prosecuting parents, school absenteeism should be handled as a child welfare matter to ensure those most in need were given the support needed.
In England and Wales, the offence of truancy lies with parents of children aged between five and 18 whose attendance at school falls below 90 percent.
A parent is liable even, if they are unaware of the absenteeism, of if the child lives with another carer such as a grandparent.
Looking into the problem, researchers analysed survey data from 126 affected parents – mostly mothers – and found a third had been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution over attendance despite making every effort to get their child into school.
Among those children who regularly missed lessons, around 90 per cent had special educational needs or a disability, and many felt anxious, depressed or fearful of the classroom.