Playing truant: Should parents be punished?

May 17, 2012, 12:07 PM GMT+0

Last month, a key government advisor on school behaviour suggested that parents of children who consistently skip school should have the fines docked from their child benefits as punishment.

Currently, the system of fines is difficult to enforce, as most unpaid fines go unprosecuted.

According to a BBC report on the issue, 400,000 children were persistently absent from England’s schools last year, each missing around a month of schooling on average.

YouGov's nationally-representative opinion polling found that 64% of the British public would support stopping child benefit payments to parents whose children persistently fail to attend school. By contrast, 25% would oppose such a measure, while 11% said they didn't know.

But on which side of this debate did individuals (with views on this topic) stand, and what opinions did they express here in Labs?

  • On one hand, many Labs participants thought parents should be punished, on the grounds that they are ultimately responsible for their child’s behaviour, and the threat of punishment would encourage good behaviour – in both the children and the parents

  • On the other hand, those who thought that parents should not be punished highlighted the need to tackle any underlying problems that might be causing the truancy, as punishment alone might not solve the problem. They also argued that children wouldn’t learn anything if their parents had to pay for their behaviour, and that it can be difficult to have complete control over your child’s actions anyway.

Should parents be punished if their child regularly truants from school? Do you think docking child benefits is the most appropriate measure, or could other measures be more effective?

Join the debate below

Here's what our poll participants had to say...

1. Yes, Parents SHOULD be punished

Argument 1: Parents are responsible for their children’s behaviour

Parents must play an active role in making sure their child is educated. Fining parents might be the last straw after, for example, parenting classes which explore potential reason for truancy” Ellie, Edinburgh

“It is up to parents to support their child's education. Later on in life it will be the children that miss out on opportunities because of their parents” Anon

Parents are ultimately responsible for their children and that goes for all aspects of the child’s behaviour. My parents managed to make sure that I attended all my lessons perfectly well” Anon

“Parental responsibility is to ensure child gets to school. Teachers then take over responsibility for child's welfare and education” Chris, M Preston

“The school can't assume responsibility and it would be daft to expect some (not all) children to be fully responsible for themselves” Anon

Parents have a social responsibility to the community they live in to use taxpayer resources properly e.g. not wasting police resources dealing with the adverse effects of truants”

“They are responsible by law - not sending children to school is a form of child abuseAnon

“Parents have to take responsibility for their children attending school. If they do not, it sends the wrong message to the child, who will think that it is not importantLes G, North Yorkshire

Argument 2: Fines will ‘foster’ good behaviour

“Parents should have instilled a good work ethic and an eagerness to learn in children from an early age” Anon

“If the parents do not have control over their children, then the child's life will spiral out of control early on. School is very important” Chris, Kent

Truancy has a long term detrimental impact on both the individual child and often on society. Although parents can't control what the children are doing all the time, they are in a position to foster positive values in their children, and failing to do this is their own fault” Anon

“Maybe showing the parents some discipline will have the effect of prompting them to impose some upon their kids” Anon

“The child is in control, but if the parent is punished then the child sees that their actions cause something to happen to someone that they love, which should change their behaviour” Anon

“If society provides parents with benefits and housing, it should demand, in return, that recipients show gratitude by ensuring that they respect society by being law-abiding and respectful citizens. Attending school and being well-behaved there is a very important part of that. Children also need discipline and good role models” Laurent, London

“Schools offer a lot of help for parents to get their children to school, so if they won’t work with the school they should pay the price. We have too many children underachieving in school and being absent a lot does not helpAnon

“It instils family values and gives responsibility to the family as a whole. Children are part of the family and need to be aware of the impact of their actions on other family members” Paul H, Matlock

2. No, parents should NOT be punished

Argument 1: The child needs to understand they are at fault

“The punishment should be with the child not its parents, in my opinion that is the only way these children will comprehend the seriousness of what they are doing” Anon, London

“The truant child must be the one to be held solely responsible. How is the child going to learn if the parents are fined? Schools must get their act together and find a more suitable punishment for the offender” John W, Tamworth

“A parent can only do so much to push their child to go to school before they are dragging them round from lesson to lesson. I believe the child should be punished and from this they will learn their lessonEmma W, Andover

“Instead of pointing the blame at the parents, a sense of responsibility needs to given to the children themselves. Of course this can only be applied to children over the age of criminal responsibility”

“Punishing parents does not give a child the idea of consequences for their actions and may cause extra problems in a household where parenting skills need to be improved” Anon

“The issue

must be taken up with the child and not their parents.

Additionally, taking benefits away from poorer homes may actually increase truancy by creating an environment where children feel despondent about education and then do not attend school”


Argument 2: We need to look at the deeper issues

“It may not be the parents at fault, for example it could be the school's failure to tackle bullyingAnon, Chelmsford

“There are many different social aspects of why children do not want to go into school, and these should be looked at and discussed” Sally B, Essex

“If children are missing school then the bigger issue of why they don't want to attend should be addressed. It's impossible to know what is going on at home for both the child and parent and we should be looking at giving them both the support they need” Anon

All reasons for absence should be explored e.g. if the child is being bullied/struggling at school etc. and these should be dealt with” Anon

Punishment won't cure the underlying cause for truancy, and will not help the children” Anon

“I believe the reason for the truancy is often nothing to do with the family background, and the children do not want to cause their parents extra worry over what’s happening at school” Lesley, Co Down

“Schools should be able to

make even the worst children find it worthwhile attending

. I have taught in sink schools and special schools and know from experience that

the school is at fault if they feel the need to truant

DJG, Gloucestershire

Argument 3: Parents can’t have total control over their children

“Most parents do try to ensure school attendance but have no say on bad peer influencesTony L, Derbyshire

“In many cases I doubt if the parents could control the matter and the children may use it against their parents” Anon

You cannot force a child to do something they don't want to do however much you try. Sometimes you have to let them figure these things out in life whilst steering them in the right direction” Emma, Wales

“If a parent takes their child to school, but the child then chooses to skive off, there is nothing the parent could do about it. It is probably more of the school’s fault for letting them go” Anon

“Parents can't physically force their child to go to school because then they'd be charged with assault/child abuse” Elfy, Edinburgh

“Yes, it's a parent’s responsibility to make sure their child/children gets to school, but they also need to show some trust and respect that they can make their own way thereH Moss, Huddersfield

Should parents be punished if their child regularly truants from school? Do you think docking child benefits is the most appropriate measure, or could other measures be more effective?

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