New powers allowing the police to pick up truants and take them back to school come into effect today.The powers under section 16 of the Crime and Disorder Act aim to see the Government fulfil its promise of tackling youth crime and stopping offending behaviour early.
Police constables will now be able to return children to school or other place designated by the local authority, if they believe the child is of school age and absent without authority.
Under the law it is also an offence for parents to allow a child to be absent from school without authority. Courts have the authority to impose Parenting Orders on parents who do not take their truancy responsibility seriously. This could mean a parent having to take a child to school personally or be required to attend parenting classes.
Home Office Minister Paul Boateng said: “Youngsters who skip school, loiter on the streets or cause disruption in shopping centres when they should be in school are not only a nuisance to the community but are damaging their own futures.
“Truancy is a big problem. A report from the Audit Commission found that a quarter of school age offenders have truanted significantly and research from the Social Exclusion Unit shows that nearly one in ten 15 year olds truant at least once a week.”
In many areas the police already work with schools and local authorities to tackle local truancy problems, but have previously lacked the explicit legal backing to do anything when a child hasbeen found out of school.
The Government has also launched a package of measures to reduce school exclusions and truancy by a third by 2002. These include computerised registration systems, extra staff to follow up on non-attendance, truancy watch and pupil pass schemes.