Sunderland politicians welcome benefit penalties for truancy

Sharon Hodgson MP
Sharon Hodgson MP
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THE idea of cutting benefits of parents who persistently allow their children to skip school has been welcomed.

Charlie Taylor, the Government’s advisor on school behaviour, said fines for parents who do not ensure their children attend school should be increased, with the money taken automatically from their child benefit if they fail to pay.

In Sunderland, 7.2 per cent of youngsters were persistently absent in the academic year 2010/11, compared to the national average of 6.1 per cent, latest figures showed.

For the same period, Sunderland City Council said 53 parents were prosecuted, of which 38 received fines between £525 and £35.

A further 15 received conditional discharges of between six and 24 months.

Sunderland’s Conservative spokesman on education, Coun Robert Oliver, said: “Sunderland has one of worst truancy rates in England and has recently introduced fines but many parents who are on benefits will be able to avoid paying fines and this is something that has to change.

“Benefits must be tied to responsibilities so if parents are receiving child benefit, but not ensuring that their children are attending school, then they should have the fine taken out of the payment direct.”

Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West and the Shadow Education Minister, said: “It is absolutely the right thing to do to fine the parents of persistent truants.

“No children in Sunderland should be missing out on their education, and parents have a responsibility to ensure that theirs are not.

“It is even more important to ensure that schools and the education system play their role in preventing and intervening early where truancy might become a problem.”

Mr Taylor claims penalty notices are ineffective.

Penalty notices can be issued by headteachers, council officers and the police, and lead to fines of £50 – doubling to £100 if parents fail to pay within 28 days. At this point the issuer has to either prosecute or withdraw the penalty notice.