What are the legal implications of truancy?

It is estimated that one in six truants on any given day is absent with their parents on a family holiday. As part of the government’s drive to curb unauthorised term-time absences, the DfES and the Association of British Travel Agents are currently promoting the Every Lesson Counts scheme, which offers discounts, free child places and early booking deals for families.

Meanwhile, senior judges have ruled that magistrates in Bromley who acquitted a mother who took her daughters out of class to attend a holiday were incorrectly advised and had been misdirected when they acquitted her. The ruling makes clear that taking unauthorised breaks could lead to court convictions and that only a school – not parents nor magistrates – can decide if a child can be absent in these circumstances. In their summation they decided that ‘It was plain in law that leave of absence “means leave granted by the school” – not leave which magistrates consider might have been justified’.

In another recent case a High Court judge has ruled that a woman was wrongly convicted last year when magistrates found her guilty of failing to ensure her son attended school. The judge found that she had done all that was physically possible to ensure that her ‘large’ 14 year old son attended school. He claimed that he was being bullied and attended only 23 out of 122 school sessions. The woman’s solicitor claimed that the decision showed that education authorities should not prosecute parents who were doing their best with difficult children, but offer greater assistance in cases where the parents were doing all in their physical power to ensure attendance.

What are your experiences of dealing with truancy? To what extent is this a priority in your school? What are the financial and other implications of any prosecutions?

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