A total of 11,757 parents were prosecuted for failing to ensure their child's attendance at school.It is important to clarify the terms here: education is compulsory, school is not. However, the wording around this subject is ambiguous and it is too easily assumed by even informed writers and Education Secretary Michael Gove that school itself is compulsory. As Education Otherwise constantly remind us, it is not.
Just over 9,000 were convicted, and nearly two-thirds of those were fined.
The highest fine imposed last year was £850, the longest jail sentence was 90 days.
7% of the school population persistently missed school in autumn 2010 and spring 2011.
It is the moral responsibility of the parent to secure an education for the child but the legal right is couched in terms of the right of the child to receive an education. Historically, it was understood from the beginning of publicly funded universal education that if the state tried to make attendance compulsory it would run in to huge resistance, particularly from non-conformist religious groups. The only sensible thing was to make it free and insist that nobody could be kept from an education. Even then, not everyone across the society had a high regard for education for its own sake.
There could be good grounds, then, for prosecuting a parent who is either negligent or obstructive, for example, a parent who refuses to let a girl learn to read, but the cases which seem to be picked up in the papers often involve parents who don't seem to be very good candidates for prosecution.
Here, for example, is Amanda Summers, benefits claimant of Burton. Her 14 year old daughter managed to get to school for about two days out of five. She was very often sent by cab, but wandered off in the afternoon, which is a separate registration period.
Ms Summers was handed a fixed penalty notice by the Education Welfare Officers which would have meant taking benefits money intended to keep her children and paying it back to the council. What was the point of that? All it does is penalize other children in the family for the indolence of the 14 year old. It isn't Ms Summers who keeps walking out of school. What exactly is Ms Summers supposed to do at that point? What is the school supposed to do? Neither of them have any legal right, as far as I can tell, to lock the girl in the classroom. While an EWO is a dab hand at demanding money, they don't appear to be around at lunchtimes in order to escort sulky missy to lunch and back to her class room.
Ms Summers didn't pay the fixed penalty notice, so Staffordshire County Council prosecuted her in the magistrate's court which will do wonders for her employability if an enhanced CRB check is done, just in case there is some outside chance of Ms Summers getting work as a care assistant or similar. So that's her chances of a job gone for a Burton.
Presiding magistrate Christine Warburton said: “She is causing you stress and costing you financially. This financial burden will only increase unless she attends school.”
Summers was fined £35, reduced from £50 for her early admission of failure to ensure a child attended school. She was also ordered to pay £50 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge. A total of £100, which is going to do even more wonders for her family at Christmas.
Ms Summers isn't allowed to thrash her, can't chain her up or refuse her food. About the most she is allowed to do is either talk to her or refuse to talk to her, neither of which seem terribly effective. Maybe bribery would work. Or perhaps she could have a big blow-up row which would result in the police being called and all the younger Summers being taken in to care while young Ms Summers concentrates on getting pregnant by the nearest yob, then it will be the council's problem to find her a flat and people will stop talking about this tedious school business.
Amanda Summers could, perhaps, chuck her out on the street in order to prevent her causing any more financial damage to the family. She could ring the social services and say 'Here, you collect her, I'm not having anything more to do with her. If you are so clever, how come half your in-care children run away? Still, have it your own way - if you think you can get her to stay in school, good luck with that pal. Only, I bet they don't prosecute you for failing to do the impossible.'
Alternatively, instead of paying the wages and public sector pensions of a bunch of EWOs and lawyers to go gadding about the magistrate's court, make them do something useful and go to Ms Summer's house and teach the girl in her bedroom, if that's what it takes. If you really believe it is about education and not the compulsion by the state. Or we could think about funding more boarding school places, which has been known to work in the past. The MP David Lammy is blunt in that he believes this saved him from the fate which befell some of his cohort. You can fund a fair number of places if you spend it on school places rather than job-creation schemes for lawyers.
Researchers claim there is a steady rate of 7%-10% of education refusniks. The thing to do is to research the age at which the behaviour sets in. Despite evidence that there may be truancy at primary schools, I will bet you it is around age 14, an age hitherto accepted by most societies as being capable of holding down entry-level jobs. I don't believe passing any amount of legislation will change that. Unfortunately, it is also true that there are fewer and fewer of those jobs available.
Our best chance - and one which is being taken in small instances in some schools - is to recognize that for a number of students, school attendance after the age of 14 is not going to happen in a meaningful intellectual sense, not even if we nailed their feet to the classroom floor. We have been flogging that horse for about a hundred years; it is time to admit that it is dead.
What might just work is that between the ages of 11-14, they may be persuaded that it is in their interests to do just enough readin', writin' and 'rithmetic so that they can go in to a pre-arranged apprenticeship which will see them mostly out of school, except for day attendance.
It's a tall order considering the declining number of jobs - and firms - which are willing to take on fourteen year olds. The jobs are going to be of a fixed nature; it will be care work, catering, customer service, warehouse, ground work, cleaning, maintenance, beauty, fashion, animal care, maybe even some manufacturing if there is any left in the country.
The CRB system means that people in general don't want to work with minors - it is just too complex and fraught with the danger of malicious accusations - but there was a time when we weren't so paranoid so it must be possible to think this through again.
The alternative is to continue to sling Amanda Summers and others like her in to jail, which will only cost us a fortune in prison costs and foster care and still won't achieve the only thing which matters: getting Ms Summers Junior an appropriate education, in school or otherwise.