Cool response at plans to tackle Sheffield truancy rates

EDUCATION bosses and headteachers in Sheffield today gave a lukewarm reaction to Government plans to tackle truancy.

Parents will only be able to take their children on holiday during term time where there are ‘exceptional circumstances’, according to tougher rules set to be adopted by ministers.

Families who fail to make sure their children attend school also face higher fines, with the money taken automatically from their child benefit if they fail to pay.

Fines for truancy are set to increase by £10 to £60, and will double to £120 if not paid within 28 days.

Latest Government figures reveal 4,850 Sheffield pupils each missed the equivalent of a whole month of lessons during the 2010/11 school year.

Sheffield education chiefs, who have already launched a campaign on the issue and are trying to tackle the issue of parents who take children on extended trips abroad, said parents should only be prosecuted after other avenues have been exhausted.

And one Sheffield headteacher said he was unimpressed by the moves.

“Perhaps I would be in favour if Government pressure was as strong on holiday tour operators to bring prices down during school holidays,” said Alan Woodman, head at Valley Park Primary at Herdings.

“Parents from disadvantaged backgrounds make their choices for financial reasons. Many families are suffering at the moment and choose to give their child a worthwhile holiday experience at the expense of missing some education, rather than having them miss out altogether during the summer break.

“If the Government looked at that issue too, then it might be right for them to exert more pressure on parents,” he added.

Dawn Walton, the city council’s key officer for the issue, said every day at school counted.

“We know that where we have persistent absenteeism, this is likely to be just one of a number of issues affecting that family,” she said.

“In Sheffield we’ve introduced a whole programme of new measures over the past few months. Our aim is to work with whole families at a very early stage, when parents have the most influence over their children, to prevent long absences from school before they become a problem.

“There has been a 40 per cent reduction in long absences of a month or more over the past year. We realise there is more to be done which is why we’re working closely with families and schools to tackle the root causes of the problem.

“Our main focus is on prevention and early intervention. Prosecutions can be costly but are there to use in situations where we think it’s appropriate and where other attempts to resolve the issue have failed.”