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Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1) what action may be taken against parents who knowingly allow and encourage their children to truant from school; and how many parents have had action taken against them since 1997; [121515]

(2) what measures are in place to ensure that parents who are unable to control whether their children attend school do not have action taken against them. [121516]

If a child of compulsory school age who is registered at a school fails to attend regularly at the school then the parent is guilty of an offence under section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996. Sanctions that might be imposed following a conviction under section 444(1) include a parenting order or a fine.Since March 2001 there has been a more serious offence where a parent who, knowing that his child is failing to attend regularly at school, fails without reasonable justification to cause him to attend (Education Act 1996 section 444(1A) as amended by the Criminal Justice and Court Service Act 2000). Prosecution under section 444(1A) can lead to a custodial sentence.Information about the number of prosecutions under sections 444(1) and 444(1A) is not collected centrally.Local education authorities have discretion whether or not to prosecute in individual cases. On conviction, magistrates must consider the aggravating and mitigating factors of the offence before deciding on a sentence.Further measures to reinforce parental responsibility for school attendance are being introduced in the Antisocial Behaviour Bill. New parenting contracts will enable formal agreements between parent and school or parent and LEA in which each side sets out the steps they will take to secure an improvement in the child's attendance. Penalty notices will provide an alternative to prosecution and a much quicker and cheaper way of sanctioning parents who are capable of improving their child's school attendance and simply need a reminder of their responsibilities.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what recent research he has conducted into the percentage of primary school children who play truant without their parents' knowledge. [122015]

The Department recently commissioned research into the causes and effects of truancy. The report, "Absence from School", Scottish Council for Research in Education, 2003, was published on 29 May.The research found that 27 per cent. of the primary pupils interviewed said that they had truanted from school without their parents' knowledge. It is important to note that these findings come from a relatively small sample of local education authorities and are therefore not necessarily representative of the whole country. The national primary school unauthorised absence rate for last year was 0.5 per cent. of half days missed.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if he will make a statement on truancy levels for children of (a) primary and (b)secondary school age in March (i) 2002 and (ii) 2003. [122016]

Truancy data is collected annually and not broken down into monthly figures. Data for the 2002/03 academic year will be available in the Autumn. The percentage of half days missed due to unauthorised absence in 2001/02 was 0.5 per cent. in primary schools and 1.1 per cent. in secondary schools. These figures have remained consistent since national data was first collected in 1994/95.