Dozens of Sunderland parents in court over truanting children

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DOZENS of parents on Wearside have faced court action over their children’s truancy, according to new figures.

A total of 44 prosecutions, or “planned interventions”, were brought during 2012-13, involving children ranging from four to 16.

With a maximum fine of £1,000 for each mum or dad, the “absolute offence” means parents can be found guilty even if they are unaware that their child has been absent from school.

During the same academic year, according to figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request, there were six further prosecutions for more serious “aggravated offences”.

This is where children fail to attend school with their parents’ knowledge and, without reasonable justification, fail to make them attend.

The offence carries a maximum fine of £2,500 and a possible three months in prison.

However, bosses at Sunderland City Council maintained that court action was seen as a “last resort” and stressed the importance of working with problem families.

Councillor Pat Smith, portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “Going to school is very important in the personal development of all young people, and we work closely with families and schools to identify and address any problems with attendance.

“If the practical advice and support provided to help families to improve a pupil’s attendance is not successful, then court action is available as a last resort.

“Our aim, however, is to work with families to intervene at an early stage and achieve a long-term solution without resorting to legal action.”

In 2011-12, there were 21 “planned interventions”, dropping from 48 in 2010-11.

There were three “aggravated offences” in 2011-12, a fall from five in 2010-11. Coun Smith said: “Despite our best efforts, some parents fail to take adequate measures to improve their child’s attendance at school.

“Where parents fail to ensure their child is educated, they not only risk prosecution, but also affecting their child’s chances of the educational achievement needed to prepare for adult life.”

In law, an offence occurs if a parent fails to secure their child’s attendance and that absence is not authorised by the school.

If a pupil fails to attend school regularly without a legitimate reason, and attempts by the attendance team and the school have failed to secure regular attendance, the authorities will, unless there are exceptional mitigating circumstances, then take legal action.

“Our priority is to protect the interests of the children who are being denied the education they are legally entitled to, and we will continue to do everything possible to help children get the education they deserve,” added Coun Smith.