Portsmouth parents in court over children's unauthorised absences from schools

EXASPERATED parents were dragged before the courts for their children’s truancy.

By Steve Deeks
Monday, 31st January 2022, 4:55 am

Under-fire mums and dads, appearing at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court, listed a number of reasons for the absences - shining a light on difficulties faced by beleaguered parents criminalised for the children’s no-shows.

Reasons given by parents for the failures to turn up were not put down to any lack of effort or responsibility on their part.

Bullying, mental health issues, sleep disorders and physically struggling to get children to go to school - with one child hopping over a fence near a school and becoming ‘aggressive’ on occasions - were among the chief explanations given to magistrates.

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A Portsmouth couple - who admitted a single charge of being a parent of a child who failed to regularly attend a city school - told the court of their difficulties with their teenage child who has ‘no friends’.

The parents had been invited to attend a school panel following an attendance record of just 55 per cent with the school agreeing to support the pupil. Meanwhile the parents were to help facilitate the child back into school and access any external support that could help the situation.

But in the period up to June 2021 records showed there were still 53 per cent unauthorised absences - landing the parents before court.

Portsmouth Magistrates' Court. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

The dad told magistrates: ‘We’ve done everything we could. Before Covid he would go to school but after he stopped going.

‘I have taken him to school and then he hops over the fence and goes home. We’ve had parenting courses but it doesn’t stop (him not going in).’

The mum added: ‘He doesn’t leave the house and doesn’t go out and can get quite aggressive if I try and get him out. I have to take a step back. He refuses to go in.

‘It has caused me health problems and I take medication for depression and anxiety.’

The couple had initially entered a not guilty plea before being told by the legal advisor their reasons did not amount to a ‘legal defence for the charge’ before changing their plea.

Magistrates slapped the pair with a £130 fine and £34 surcharge each.

‘It’s important you continue to engage with the school,’ the Chair of the Bench said before suggesting they get in touch with young people’s mental health charity CAMHS.

The mum agreed but added: ‘It’s getting him to engage.’

Another couple, with previous offences to their names, were also due in court to face two charges each for their children’s poor attendance - but did not attend.

The court heard one of their children had an ‘irregular’ attendance record of 84 per cent prompting a school panel.

Problems regarding bullying and anxiety linked to crowds were raised with the school providing mentoring clinics.

Despite the child’s attendance briefly improving, the pupil then ‘fell in with the wrong friendship group’ before truanting.

The school subsequently stepped up its mentoring support and sought to help with confidence building.

But problems persisted with the pupil missing nine out of 16 sessions in a 30-day period.

The parents also had difficulties getting another of their children to go to school - with the pupil having a 65 per cent attendance record during a two-month period last year.

‘Anxiety’ and ‘issues with uniform’ were put forward resulting in missed exams and catch-up sessions.

Despite a brief improvement, attendance soon became irregular once again.

Magistrates found the case proved in their absence with the case adjourned for sentence at a later date, with a warrant likely to be issued for their arrest if they do not show.

Another mum and dad had their case ‘unusually’ adjourned for nine months while they attempted to receive medical proof of their child’s troublesome sleeping disorder. This was given as the reason for the child’s poor school attendance with them often sleeping during the day.

The mum said: ‘(The child) has a sleep disorder and complex social and emotional issues and suffers with anxiety.

‘The school is not in a place where it can meet these needs and is not very good at dealing with (the child) and doesn’t have the facilities.’

The parents were in touch with a sleep clinic but were having difficulty getting treatment as they were waiting for specialist equipment.

The court heard a medical defence was one of the few defences available to parents in such predicaments in court.

With challenges faced by the parents in getting medical proof valid to the court, the chair of the bench said: ‘We have every sympathy with the situation you find yourself in. Unusually we will adjourn the case for nine months.’

What Portsmouth City Council said

Mike Stoneman, deputy director for education at Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘Parents have a legal responsibility to ensure their children get a full-time education. And the council, like the vast majority of Portsmouth families, wants local children to have the best possible start in life. That means regular attendance at school, so they don't miss out on learning and their social development.

‘Evidence shows children who attend school regularly are more successful, not only in school, but in all areas of life.

‘We know that regular attendance has not been easy or possible for many during the pandemic, but now full attendance is expected.

‘Schools work hard with families to improve attendance, and the council publishes advice to families via our magazines, newsletters, website and social media. We've had a special focus on sleep routines and mental health recently.

‘Sometimes, despite advice and support, it's necessary to move to more formal action to secure attendance. The council is guided by headteachers on this. Unfortunately, sometimes court action is necessary, but only after all other options have been exhausted.’

Cllr Suzy Horton, the council's cabinet member for children, families and education, said: ‘If the last few years have shown us anything, it is the important role of schools at the heart of our communities and the crucial role they play for every child in learning and gaining social and emotional skills as they grow up . That is why it is more important than ever that children are back in school full time. If there are challenges to overcome, the school and the council will work with the families to make sure that children can attend.’

For more information families can search "attendance" at www.portsmouth.gov.uk

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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