“Engage pupils, don’t punish parents” – teachers condemn truancy benefit clampdown

by - 16th April 2012, 10.26 BST

Teaching unions have condemned plans to take unpaid truancy fines directly from child benefit payments, saying parents should be part of the solution, not further alienated.

The government’s behaviour Tsar, Charlie Taylor, this morning created controversy by saying fines should increase from £50 to £60, doubling to £120 if they are unpaid after 28 days, at which stage the money would then be automatically recovered from child benefit payments.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: “Persistent truancy is obviously a problem. The effect of regular absenteeism from school on a pupil’s confidence and ability to understand what is being taught in the classroom is greatly affected.

“However it is not an issue that will be solved by fining parents. Deducting money from child benefit will have huge financial repercussions for many families. Having less money for food and bills will simply create a whole new set of problems.

“Parents need to be part of the solution and not be further alienated from the education of their children. We need properly resourced support systems, run by the local authority, which schools can call upon to deal with hard core truancy. With local authority budgets being so extensively cut this is increasingly difficult to achieve and is a refection of the short-sightedness of this government’s policies.

“Replacing the repetitive test and targets culture of our schools with a relevant and flexible curriculum would certainly help to ensure all pupils remained engaged in education”.

ATL education policy advisor Alison Ryan said: ‘We fully agree that schools should intervene early to tackle pupil absenteeism.  But raising the fines for parents of truants is too simplistic a method to solve the complex range of issues which lead pupils to truant – ranging from bullying, struggling at school, failure to see the value of education, to chaotic home lives with families affected by drink or drug abuse or housing problems.

“Putting up fines is likely to hit the most vulnerable families and risks alienating them and their children even further from education.

“Vulnerable families often need a range of solutions to support them such as parent support workers, Sure Start Centres to help parents who struggle with parenting, and mental health and social services to help tackle problems in chaotic home lives.  But government cuts to local authority budgets are hitting many of these support services with Sure Start Centres closing and cuts to education psychologists and behaviour management staff.”