Keywords: Truancy - prosecution of parents - legitimacy - alternatives to punishment - education supervision orders
Truancy has existed for as long as schooling. Yet it is only in the past 30 years or so that truancy has become a major social and political issue in England and Wales, and parents have increasingly come to be blamed for it. This article considers the background as to how blaming the parents came about; the ways in which politicians have chosen to deal with the question through the creation of criminal offences; and the consequences for the parents and their families. To assist in this analysis, interviews were conducted with 40 parents and carers who had been prosecuted for failing to ensure the attendance of their children at school. The picture that emerged reinforces other indicators which show that this punitive approach is not only unsuccessful, but also unjust. The approach is unsuccessful because it does not only generally reduce truancy and may exacerbate already difficult home relationships. It is unjust because prosecution, being focused on poor, single mothers, is inconsistent and ignores significant factors which prevent the practical enforcement of school attendance. In terms of Tyler's analysis of procedural justice. Prosecution can also be viewed as lacking legitimacy in the eyes of the defendants. The article concludes by suggesting that the prosecution of truancy should be replaced by a more holistic, welfare-based approach to its underlying causes. In particular, consideration is given to whether greater use could be made of the education supervision order.