Police could make truancy inquiries

Parents of truant children faced a stark warning last night that police could turn up on their doorstep or at work to demand why their youngsters are not at school.

Parents of truant children faced a stark warning last night that police could turn up on their doorstep or at work to demand why their youngsters are not at school.

Norfolk parents may have to tell officers why their children are not in class after it was revealed that a special clamp down on truant children could be extended county wide.

In the first operation of its kind for Norfolk, police community support officers swooped on 158 parents whose children failed to attend high schools in the Yarmouth area last week.

The PCSOs and Norfolk County Council attendance officers examined school registrars every day to see which pupils failed to turn up to school.

Then teams visited pupils' homes to quiz them and their parents on their failure to attend classes.

Some parents were confronted at work because they had left home thinking their children had gone to school when in fact they had bunked off.

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Yarmouth was chosen for the innovative pilot police visit scheme because more than 1,000 children in the area are missing one day a week as they skip lessons.

Tracy Whitaker, the council officer who headed up the sweeps, said there now was a distinct possibility that other parents across Norfolk could face a similar door step visit from police.

She said: “Early indications are that it has been successful. I will now evaluate the sweeps and take my report to the council to see if they will provide a model for future good practice elsewhere.

“We will do everything in our power to get the message across that school attendance is vitally important in ensuring children reach their true potential.”

The PCSO and council officials visited 158 homes and they found three main reasons for pupils' non-attendance.

Parents forgot to tell schools their children were ill, parents left for work thinking their children had gone to school and youngsters stayed at home caring for family members.

The schools involved in the truancy house swoop were Caister, Yarmouth, Lynn Grove, Oriel and Cliff Park high schools.

In the last few months several Yarmouth parents have received suspended jail sentences or been ordered to carry out unpaid work after being convicted of allowing their children to miss large chunks of their education.

And across Norfolk in the last six months the parents of 98 truant pupils have been prosecuted.

In the last school year there was 1.5 per cent unauthorised absence in Norfolk's secondary schools and 0.4 per cent for primary schools.

Other council policies to improve school attendance include one-to-one parent support, truancy sweeps where young people gather in the day and working with teachers to identify early signs of truancy.

Rosalie Monbiot, county councillor responsible for education, said: “It is crucial that children who are registered at school attend regularly.

“Our current campaign is aimed at getting the message across to parents and children that every day matters and every lesson counts.”

Yarmouth has higher than average truancy because some parents have low aspirations, children care for family members and because the seaside resort may prove too alluring for youngsters.