Schools live and die these days on league tables and Ofsted rankings. It's widely reported that many boost their exam results by teaching to the test and concentrating effort on kids with borderline grades. I suspect though that the increase in cases I'm seeing in Magistrate court involving truancy may be an attempt by schools and local authorities to boost the attendance scores.
We had four cases this particular afternoon - as opposed to one every few months previously.
(a) single mum with difficult child - she has tried everything and produced a file of her increasingly desperate attempts to get support from the school and the local authority. Their response was to send her a fixed penalty notice and then to hire an expensive barrister to hassle her in our court.
(b) family who took a particularly troubled kid on holiday during the last week of term - nothing timetabled for the last week of term and permission had been granted for all the other kids in the family. So it was a bit naughty when they went anyway, but the local authorities response seems like overkill. Their response was to send them a fixed penalty notice and then to hire an expensive barrister to hassle them in our court.
(c) foster family who have taken on a number of highly difficult kids - I personally would have recommended them for the New Years Honours list for the miracles they've worked with their other kids. But even their skills and energy weren't enough to ensure attendance of one particularly troubled child. Guess what ? The local authority gave them the support they needed and then were sympathic and patient ? Nope - their response was to send a fixed penalty notice and then to hire an expensive barrister to hassle them in our court.
Makes me cross - the expense of these actions are monstrous and would be better spent on helping the families involved. OK, they fell short of their responsibilities, but in all three cases we found that this was deserving of a tiny fine or an absolute discharge.
(d) was a bit different - the accused father had turned up drunk first time, had been sent away, failed to appear for the next hearing, which had led to a new charge. When he failed to appear this time, we issued a warrant to bring him in. He finally showed up two hours late, too drunk to participate. The ushers pointed him in the direction of the police station.
Personally, I've got no problems dealing with (d) - you have to worry about the child involved - but why the other three prosecutions ? The local media were in attendance and scribbling away - could it really be all about publicity and getting a message out to parents ?