Wednesday, 14 December 2011


The Guardian helpfully highlighted the current rates of prosecution of parents for allowing children to truant from school.
A total of 11,757 parents were prosecuted for failing to ensure their child's attendance at school.

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 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.

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.

What presiding magistrate Christine Warburton failed to explain in her infinite wisdom, was what exactly is Ms Summers supposed to do? This is a 14 year old girl. Hell's teeth, have you ever tried shifting one of those if they don't want to move? Dynamite would weep.

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.


JuliaM said...

Or we could just admit that the likes of Ms Summers Junior are key to keeping a lot of people in jobs...

Turing word: ursining A posh way of saying 'bearing up'..?

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Good post, I like your pragmatic and sensible approach, but I take issue with this: "between the ages of 11-14, they may be do just enough readin', writin' and 'rithmetic"

No. Way too late.

They should all be made to read, write and figure, in primary school, before they get big and spotty and bolshie.

We forget - at our peril - that all primary school children apart from actual imbeciles used to be able to read and write passably well before age 11. We know how to do this, or some of the older amongst us know, even if the younger - particularly the younger teachers - have been programmed to forget or to believe that it's impossible.

If you have 12/13-year-olds who can't read properly, you really are on the highway to hell.

Then, when they're 11-14, start to do something vocational or occupational with them. Then get them the hell out of school so that those who want to pursue an academic programme can do so undistracted by the neds.

Oh, and abolish the minimum wage - of course.

Anonymous said...


This will be of interest to you:

After a bit of digging I found out that all three directors of said company (South East Attendance Advisory Services) are current London Borough of Bexley employees. Which is a HUGE conflict of interest.


Captain Ranty said...

This all ties in neatly with the stuff I go on about.

They want to ensure the next crop of drones. There may well be the odd genius in state schools but they mostly want the next crop educated to the minimum of standards. Good little taxpayers to provide the billions they will waste.

Cynical? Oh yes. Yes indeedy.


Woman on a Raft said...

I'm too trusting JuliaM. When you put it like that, there may be an alternative explanation I just hadn't considered. See Olly's link. Oh dear.


I was hoping, Weekend Yachtsman, that despite the trend found in some of the figures, children are generally reasonably happy in primary school and at least disposed towards learning.

You are right, of course. A child who leaves primary school without being literate and numerate is so severely disadvantaged in the modern world that they need to be in an intense catch-up unit because the general education is going to be lost on them.

Woman on a Raft said...

a nice little scam by announcing that their “policy” is to prosecute both parents separately so as to double all fines and their income.

Good grief, Olly, thank you. I'll keep an eye out for this. I hadn't appreciated the profit motive and had put it down to the usual bureaucratic urge to cover their arse by issuing paper, regardless of whether it is in the best interests of the child or not.

Woman on a Raft said...

There is a problem with the plan of the master race, then Captain. They aren't breeding enough future taxpayers because they aren't educating enough of them to world-class standards. These are not going to be able to hold their own against e.g. the Chinese.

All Seeing Eye said...

Ms Summers isn't allowed to thrash her, can't chain her up or refuse her food

Convert to Islam; sorted.

Woman on a Raft said...

You'd be amazed, AE, at how many school policies were obliquely intended to deal with the traditional attitude to the education of females in cetain cultures.

It hasn't helped all that much, but some, and one of the reasons everybody else finds themselves under scrutiny is that otherwise it would be discriminatory.