IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Parents are now home schooling ‘to avoid getting hit with truancy fines’

Council says it believes children benefit most from being in class but respects right to choose

20 November, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Amanda Arnold taught her son at home

THE number of Islington parents fined for child absence from school has nearly doubled in four years.

And it was claimed this week that the penalty system was now pushing people towards home schooling instead.

While parents have been forced to pay thousands of pounds in fines, the National Education Union (NEU) has described the measures as “completely counterproductive”.

In the 2015-16 academic year, 18 families were prosecuted for child truancy, although only 11 resulted in a fine.

By 2018-19 that figure had risen to 27 prosecutions and 21 successful fines which range from £60 to £120, according to council data released after a Freedom of Information request.

A spokesman for the Islington branch of the NEU said: “Fines are completely counterproductive and most impact families who are least able to pay them.

“Clearly it’s for the benefit of students that they attend school, obviously parents should be given every support available to help them ensure their children attend school. We don’t believe fining parents is the solution, in fact it might make matters worse.”

In the past 12 months the number of successful fines has fallen to below five but the disruption caused to courts and schools by the Covid-19 crisis makes it difficult to compare this to the trend set by previous years.

Meanwhile, the number of families electing to home school their children in Islington has also increased year on year.

In the 2016-17 academic year there were 174 home-schooled children and this has increased to 251 this year.

The council, the NEU and the Department for Education (DfE) strongly advise parents to keep their children in the mainstream schooling system.

But Amanda Arnold, who lives on the Nailour estate off Caledonian Road, elected to home school her son Ilias for his GCSE year.

She is critical of the support she received from the council and the DfE but said she learned on her feet to find worksheets and study guides online.

As a result she has become a source for other parents to contact when they are considering home schooling and after they have made the decision.

Ms Arnold told the Tribune: “A lot of parents just don’t want to get in trouble if they’re being fined for child absences so they take them out. I call them the lost children. It is really upsetting to be honest.”

Parents who educate their children at home must legally provide them with a “suitable education”. However, councils are not funded by the DfE to monitor this and the education watchdog Ofsted does not regularly conduct inspections.

Islington Council does employ an “Elective Home Education Advisor” to monitor families, although Ms Arnold said she did not receive a regular visit.

A council spokesman said: “We always encourage parents to think very carefully before taking the decision to assume total responsibility for their children’s education – as a minimum, they need to be confident they can provide the depth and breadth of learning their children require.

“We work together with schools to offer a wide range of support for vulnerable families who may be struggling to ensure their children attend school regularly. Fines for non-attendance are only issued as an absolute last resort, and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account a whole range of factors and the family context.”

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