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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Should parents be held responsible for child truancy?
A mother-of-two has been jailed for 60 days for failing to stop her children playing truant.

It is believed to be the first time magistrates have passed such a sentence on a parent whose children are missing school.

The woman received a sentence of three months imprisonment in Banbury, Oxfordshire, for not ensuring her two daughters regular attended school.

The government has made tackling truancy a priority, with Prime Minister Tony Blair suggesting that parents of children who repeatedly miss school could lose child benefit payments.

Should parents be held responsible for their children missing school? Is it an unfair sanction or an incentive for parents to ensure their child attends school?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

I had a terrible time trying to get my daughter to go to school after she had been bullied and already fallen behind with her work. I went everywhere for help as I could see things were just going to get worse. Social Services said they really couldn't help unless she committed a crime, the doctors couldn't help. I tried every way to get her to go and she'd just shout and swear at me. My younger daughter used to get really upset because it would make us late. I then got phone calls from the education authority while I was at work telling me that they would fine me 1,000. Eventually my daughter got in trouble with the police and then Social Services started phoning me and said we needed counselling as a whole family. The blame for the situation was squarely placed on our shoulders, as we obviously had to be a dysfunctional family. Looking back, nearly 10 years on, I think the school had a large part to play in this traumatic time and I only wish I had removed my daughter from there at the first sign of trouble when she was bullied.
Nicola, UK

My fifteen year old daughter was keen to discuss this sad case with me, as she pointed out in the event I could physically make her go to school (she is bigger than me) I couldn't ensure that she stayed there as security at the school is non-existent. Whilst neither of us condone truancy we both agreed that to punish the Mother but not the offenders was odd. Is it right to allow and expect teenagers to consider themselves "young adults" but at the same time not make them take responsibility and any consequences for their actions?
Helen, UK

The vast majority of kids attend school in spite of it being less than 'fun'

Tina, UK
If a parent has tried everything they can to get their child into school, and there is evidence of their having co-operated with the school, LEA , social services etc, then there is no call for punishing them. But in the circumstances where the parent cares as little about school attendance as their truanting child, then surely it must be seen as their responsibility. It can only be their attitude that the child has learnt from. To say that it is the school's fault is ridiculous - the vast majority of kids attend school in spite of it being less than 'fun' - they go because their parents have brought them up to want to learn, to see the value in an education, and of course, to respect their teachers and do what they are asked to do by their parents and school. And anyway, how can a teacher, trying to educate and control a class of 35 teenagers have any energy left for making things 'fun'?
Tina, UK

I stopped going to school when I was 14. I truly believed then and still believe now that it was a complete waste of time and effort - I learned more at home by myself. My parents did everything possible to get me to school, including physically dragging me there - but short of locking me in the classroom nobody could force me to stay. My parents were threatened with court and eventually I was told that if I missed one more day of school I would be taken into care - my response to this was a serious suicide attempt. After that they left me alone. I see no reason why my parents should have been jailed - they did everything they could. There was no support from the education authorities. For the record, I still managed to pass 5 GCSEs. I now have a first class honours degree and am studying for a PhD. My failing school was entirely responsible, not my parents. And not me either, I was a child.
Louise Macaree, Wales

The law should go one step further and make the consequences of the child's actions more directly apparent to him/her. Instead of punishing the parent the child should be locked away for 60 days instead, today's children seem to have no innate morals and are too selfish to learn any other way.
Steve, UK

A tribunal agreed that my son's needs had been unmet at school and that our tuition had helped him.

Helen, UK
I am appalled at this decision. How will this family ever have any trust in school or LEA if their actions have resulted in jail? And this, and the ensuing support from Estelle Morris gives the blue light to head-teachers who decide to come down heavy on parents. Last year, my dyslexic son was deteriorating at school and was unable to read and write. When the school and LEA failed to support him I took him out for one afternoon each week for private tuition. I was threatened with prosecution and the child welfare services began an investigation. I could have lost my job over this, let alone the impact on my family. Luckily, a later tribunal agreed that my son's needs had been unmet at school and that our tuition had helped him. Nevertheless I have had no apology, and have had to fight for every crumb of support. Head-teachers seem omnipotent in what they can do to parents and children and LEA's are rarely inclined to investigate them. I wonder in this current case how much we do not know.
Helen, E Yorks, UK

Of course the sentence is harsh. But it deserves to be. These children were not missing school because of bullying; they were not threatening their mother; the school was not failing and they did not have special needs. Just because some children have some underlying reason for truancy which deserves attention, it does not follow that all of them do, and the court has clearly recognised that this particular family have no reasonable excuse.
Julian Hayward, UK

I am totally in favour of jailing the parents of truants. This should be extended further and applied to the parents of disruptive/violent pupils. Truants can easily drift into the wrong crowd or into criminal activities - they need to be protected and kept in school instead of being left to wander the streets. Parents have a huge responsibility in this regard, not just the school and the government. If they fail they should be punished.
Ru, UK

For 2 years I had problems getting my daughter to go to school. As a single parent, I had no choice but to work, but I tried so many ways to get her to school before I started work. I lost 2 jobs because I was always late because I had to drag her screaming out of the door. Some days she didn't stay in school. I called the school, social services, my doctor. I tried everywhere but nobody offered to help me. They just said if she didn't go to school I would be in trouble. Some people might say that it was bad parenting, but what else could I do? I threatened her, removed all her privileges, grounded her, punished her constantly yet she still wouldn't go. The stress I was under was unbelievable and to think I could have been sent to jail for this?? I don't know this woman's story, maybe she did get help but in my experience it wasn't there!
Alice, Scotland

Parents options for discipline have been severely curtailed in recent years

I am sure that there are cases where the parents don't care if there kids go to school and make no effort to persuade them to. In such cases, I do support imprisonment as a last resort. However, there are many cases of truancy where the parents are in no way to blame. Parents options for discipline have been severely curtailed in recent years, so how is a parent expected to ensure their child's attendance at school?

If a teenager point blank refuses to go to school then it seems quite obvious to me that the teenager is to blame. If the government want to blame the parents for the failures of their adolescent children then let Tony lead the way by submitting to a custodial sentence for his son's transgressions!
Shaun, Teignmouth UK

This is an appalling, callous sentence and Estelle Morris should be sacked for her lack of humanity in supporting it. Teenagers who don't want to go to school will rarely, if ever, listen to their parents. I'm sure this poor woman was having a hard enough time already - imprisonment is just the final insult. It is the government and the system that is failing these kids. The government should quit blaming it all on parents or teachers and address the underlying problem which is that many kids have no aspirations because the system offers them nothing to aspire to.
Stephen Wey, UK

The fanciful notion that you can go through life never having to do anything hard is absurd.

Andrew Carter, UK
Two points seem worth making. From the background, it is clear that this action was very much a last resort and that for 2 years or so this woman had not co-operated, despite repeated (and no doubt costly for taxpayers) attempts by local authorities to get these children to school. The second point concerns the 'if school was more enjoyable and fun children would attend' argument. The fanciful notion that you can go through life never having to do anything hard, never having to do what you're told is absurd. What happens to these children when they start work? Will they be able to say that they don't want to do things because it's too hard, or not enough fun? Learning does require some effort and application, whatever the method of teaching but truancy apologists seem to willing to excuse children who often just can't be bothered. Maybe one day these children will be working in the same firms as their apologists. Will it be accepted then?
Andrew Carter, UK

Suppose kids are too scared to go to school because they are being bullied. How will it help them to lock up their parents?
Sally Burr, UK

It is not an offence to refuse to send your children to a failing school system. We all have the right to educate our children at home. My son, who has ADD, was removed from school 18 months ago because the limitations of the normal classroom routine did not permit the amount of supervision he needed for his education to be effective. He has been educated at home by my wife ever since and is making good progress. A parent is obligated to ensure that their child has an education suitable for their needs and abilities, either in a normal school, OR OTHERWISE. The organisation Education Otherwise supports parents who want more information on this subject.
Colin, England

When you become a parent, you have to take on the responsibility for looking after your children properly. Ensuring that they go to school is one part of that responsibility. By all accounts, this woman has not only failed to ensure her children go to school, but she has wilfully defied the courts and kept them from school. I doubt the courts would have taken this action lightly, and they are not in the business of passing the occasional stiff sentence to 'get the message across'. Stop blaming the courts, the schools, the teachers, and start accepting your responsibilities as parents!
Nick, London, UK

As a father of five children, I totally agree with the action taken against this mother. Too many parents today take no responsibility whatsoever for their children's behaviour and consequently the children themselves believe there are no consequences for their actions. This should act as a wake up call for all irresponsible parents.
Steve, UK

I can think of lots of other more deserving cases for a rest at Her Majesty's Pleasure.

Trevor, UK
I am absolutely amazed that a magistrate has seen fit to send to jail an obviously single mother whose only 'crime' is to be unable to force her unwilling offspring to go to school. With the prison system creaking at the seams I can think of lots of other more deserving cases for a rest at Her Majesty's Pleasure. How do the government think that putting parents in jail will help? Perhaps it will give them a good rest from their unruly offspring but apart from that it seems to be just putting children onto the streets with absolutely no restraint except from an overworked social services department. I would like to know whether the people backing this move have actually got any children of their own, if they have then they must be 'angels'. My take on this is 'there but for the grace of God...'
Trevor, UK

I found myself in a similar situation here some years ago. I had to go to court with my son for his truancy. The judge said one more day of truancy that year and I would be fined $500 and then he told my son that he would make sure my son would pay it back. That seemed to do the trick for there was no more truancy that year.
Nancy, USA

One size doesn't fit all. Why should parents be blamed when their children, disaffected by a failing school system, vote with their feet? Successive governments have failed to tackle the problem at source and provide a system of education that children can feel part of and enjoy. Instead they are forced to comply with the National Curriculum which allows little or no individuality. It is a disgrace that this family has been made a scapegoat for government failure.
Steve, England

About time that parents are held responsible for the behaviour of their children. If a parent can't control their own children why should you expect a teacher to do it? However I do think that this should be a last resort - as I believe it was in this case only being implemented after social services had been involved for two years.
Mark Davies, UK

It is not a legal requirement for children to attend school.

Paul, UK
I agree that parents should always be primarily responsible for their children. But I'd like to point out that it is not a legal requirement for children to attend school. Children are, however, required to receive an education suitable to their abilities. A growing number of parents choose to ensure this happens by electing to home educate them. Please don't automatically assume that a child is playing truant if it isn't in school during school hours. It might be a home educated child on its way to the library, museum or other educational trip.
Paul, UK

As a step parent of a child who refused to go to school, in fact just refused to do anything she didn't feel like doing, the only help I received was Social workers and police to tell me I couldn't do anything. Eventually I requested Social services to take the girl, they did, she smoked, slept out with men 10 years her senior, and didn't go to school for them either. If they couldn't persuade her, what chance the rest of us? We have our hands tied, we mustn't punish our children, we can't stop them going out, we can't smack them, deny them pocket money, send them to their room, you can't reason with drugs, and yet we must control them. No chance.
Dave, England

As a teacher I hope that this case will make other parents realise they can be held responsible for not making their children go to school. I hope other courts will follow this example. Contrary to what this parent's solicitor says, this jail sentence clearly HAS had the effect of getting those children into school. The county council in this case had tried every possible action before resorting to court action.

Problems like this do not start when the children are teenagers, they start off when the children are primary-aged and first start refusing to go. Parents who let their children stay off for the sake of avoiding arguments are just storing up trouble as the truancy becomes a habit. The longer children stay away, the harder it is for them to catch up when they do attend.
Kate, UK

The sentence is totally mindless and unbelievably cruel

Barrie Martindale, Canada
The sentence is totally mindless and unbelievably cruel. It will almost certainly aggravate the social alienation of both the parent and the children. It makes my blood boil to think that anyone would consider that imprisoning a single parent could possible have any effect on the cause of this problem.
Barrie Martindale, Canada

For Barrie Martindale, Canada: The sister of the woman who was imprisoned was speaking on the news a couple of days ago. She said that the girls were back at school, and had vowed that they would never do such a thing again, because they didn't want their mother to go to prison. The 'short sharp shock' has worked wonders.
Russell Long, UK

Yes. Well done, It's about time too. This scheme needs to be extended to include parents that turn a blind eye to their children's vandalism and violence too. Some common sense at last.
Paul, UK

If the vast majority of children can attend school and parents can achieve this, then it is not impossible for the remainder to achieve this. It would appear that these children have suddenly returned to school now that their mother has been punished. Perhaps the shock of the result of their actions will engage their minds into their final years of education.
Robert, U.K.

Parents must be held responsible for their children, just as they are responsible for their education until they are of school age. Parents then send their children to school to continue an education that began the day the child was born. Parents who repeatedly allow their children to "roam" during a school day have to be made to realise their responsibilities of "having children" - they were no accident!
AMWD, England

I have a 15 (year 10) son who is refusing to go to school. His father has now thrown him out and I have taken him into my home, where he has to live and sleep in my lounge. He is 6ft and strong. I would like Mr Blair to tell me how I am supposed to force him to go to school. I have two older sons who went to school with no problems, both are now working. I also have an 11year old daughter who attends school, so far with no problems. I have never let my children have a day off school unless absolutely necessary. They have seen me go to college to further my job prospects and I rarely have time off work, so I do not think I have set them a bad example.

Unless you live the experience of a child refusing to go to school you cannot judge parents, nor should you punish them. I can tell you from experience there is no help from anyone when you are in this situation. I have asked for help from the school, education welfare, social services and the police, but apart from telling me I will be prosecuted unless I get him into school that was it, no practical help. What are parents to do when they have no powers and the children have it all?
S Bolton, Britain

It seems a bit harsh to punish the parent for what I see as the school's failings

Iain Alexander, UK
It seems a bit harsh to punish the parent for what I see as the school's failings. Perhaps if schools were more enjoyable, less prescriptive and more inclusive, more children would be less inclined to "bunk off". A lot of children find school a terrible experience, where academic excellence is the pinnacle of achievement, for non-academic children there is no perhaps no alternative but to opt out of the school system that is failing them.
Iain Alexander, UK

Of course parents should be held responsible for their children missing school. If it isn't the parents' responsibility then whose is it?
Amanda, England

I agree most strongly. It may also make parents take more interest and pay more attention to their offspring in other areas of their lives too. They would probably become more concerned about where they are and what they were doing, and with whom they were doing it.
Julie Ardrey, UK

Good for the magistrate! More and more, people abdicate responsibility by blaming the government - whereas the fact of the matter is that people need to take more responsibility themselves. There should be training for would be parents before they can have children, and those parents should be held responsible if they fail to discipline their children.
Russell Long, UK

I think it is past the time of having the law applied in such cases without caring for the social and humanitarian aspects of the case. If there is a problem, delve into it and see what may be wrong with the girls, school or perhaps the educational system itself.
Corinne, Malta

See also:

13 May 02 | England
Mother jailed for girls' truancy
29 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair defends truancy crackdown
29 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Truant plan sparks split
16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blunkett targets young criminals
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