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Targeting parents in council’s war on truancy

Blackpool Council is set to get tough on Truancy. Below: Coun Ivan Taylor.

Blackpool Council is set to get tough on Truancy. Below: Coun Ivan Taylor.

A “zero tolerance” crackdown on school truancy is set to spark a huge rise in parents being dragged before the courts, education chiefs warned today.

Parents have also been told taking their children out of school for holidays in term time will not be accepted.

Figures revealed by Blackpool Council today show the number of prosecutions relating to truancy due before the courts are set to more than double this year under the hard line stance.

Between September 2012 and March 2013, 47 prosecutions were brought against parents or guardians for failing to ensure children attended lessons.

That is expected to soar to 117 cases between September 2013 and this March.

Education chief Coun Ivan Taylor today warned the crackdown is in response to figures revealed by The Gazette this week, which show the resort has one of the worst school attendance records in the country.

He added: “It is a zero-tolerance policy. We are taking a strong line on this because if children don’t get into school then they don’t get their education.

“The figures will demonstrate to people this is not something we are messing about with. They have to understand it is a serious issue and if they don’t get their children into school without a really good reason, they will find themselves in court.”

Taking a family holiday in term-time, or children refusing to attend lessons, will not be accepted as an excuse for absence.

Coun Taylor added: “I know holidays are a lot cheaper out of school holiday time.

“However, if you take a child out of school for a couple of weeks, it can take that child a long time to recover from and catch up on the lessons they have missed.

“Sometimes parents say it is not their fault, and that they cannot get the child to go to school, but that’s not good enough. If a parent has a problem, then they should talk to us to see what is wrong, but if the absence persists then we hold the parent responsible.”

Schools are also cracking down on pupils who are late for lessons.

Coun Taylor said: “It’s one thing being 20 minutes late, but it’s another when a pupil arrives at 11am and they have missed a morning’s lessons.

“The children of this town need to be in school because their future and their life chances depend on it.”

It emerged this week while nationally the average number of truants aged between 11 and 16 regularly missing school is 6.5 per cent – in Blackpool that average is almost double at 12.8 per cent for 2012-13.

In primary schools, the national average for the number of children persistently missing classes in 2012-13 was 3.6 per cent, but in Blackpool the figure is 4.7 per cent

Tory group leader Coun Tony Williams criticised the council for not doing enough to combat the situation.

He told a meeting of Blackpool Council: “It is quite obvious some of these attendance levels are contributing to our failure in secondary schools.

“Some of the levels are twice the national average which is not acceptable.”

Coun Williams also claimed the council’s free breakfast scheme was failing in its aim of encouraging better attendance.

Chris Powell, principal of South Shore Academy on St Annes Road, Blackpool, said they had improved attendance levels by 3.4 per cent between 2012 and 2013.

This was due to initiatives including increasing the number of attendance officers, keeping in touch with parents through systems including text messaging, and developing a rewards culture for good attendance.

He said: “Students who are absent from school are missing out on vital learning opportunities. We need to encourage students to attend every single day.”

Sue Harrison, Director of Children’s Services at the council, said: “We have many tools at our disposable for dealing with children missing from school.

“However, the most important thing is we work in partnership with parents to help them understand the importance of their child attending school every day.”

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