Camden parents in dock over truancy as prosecutions rise tenfold

The number of parents taken to court by Camden Council for failing to make their child go to school has increased tenfold in five years.

The spike in legal action is down to a renewed drive, at the request of Ofsted, to enforce attendance at schools across the borough.

The council prosecutes an average of five parents a month, but January saw double that number.

The council has had this power since 1996, but in the last five years prosecution figures have soared from five in 2007/08 to 49 in the first half of the 2011/12 academic year.

Cabinet member Larraine Revah refused to speak to the Ham&High, but released this statement: “There is a clear link between attendance and performance, which underpins an increased focus on school attendance by Ofsted, and our actions are designed to support children improving their performance.”

On January 5 Falhad Hussein, of Shoot Up Hill in Cricklewood, pleaded guilty to failing to have her seven-year-old attend Kingsgate Primary School regularly between September 2010 and July 2011. Her daughter’s attendance fell to a low of 65 per cent between November 8 and January 1 this year.

Hussein, who claimed to have suffered from “depression”, said: “Even though I have so many problems I am guilty and it’s affecting her education. It’s also affecting my son’s education.”

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She was fined �100.

Carol Stoute, of Fellows Road in Belsize, was also set to appear in court charged with failing to ensure her seven-year-old attended St Dominic’s Roman Catholic School regularly – a 17-minute walk from their home – between September 2010 and July last year. Her son missed more than one day in four.

Stoute, who was said to be deaf, failed to appear and was fined �365 in her absence. She was one of many defendants who failed to show up at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Corner that day.

Council solicitor Edward Surkis told the Ham&High: “These children are normally from broken homes or have parents with a lot of problems, but it can also be those who choose to go on holiday without the school’s permission.”

Most parents are let off with a fine or conditional discharge, but in extreme cases, persistent offenders can end up with a three-month prison sentence.

Alison Buchanan, of Solace Women’s Aid, said parental authority can often be undermined in an environment where domestic violence is the norm.

She said: “We try to help women rather than enforcing. It is important children go to school but we recognise there is a whole range of reasons. We try to help rebuild the relationship between parent and child so they understand the benefit of education.”

At Hampstead School there is a zero-tolerance approach to truancy or skipping school to visit relatives abroad.

Headteacher Jacques Szemalikowski said: “We’re very serious about what we do and if teachers are preparing great lessons every single day, we expect pupils to be there every single day.”