Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Look out, it's the truancy patrol!

Section 16 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 gave the police the power to remove truants from a public place and return them to school or take them to another safe place. The usual method of accomplishing this end is by working with the Education Welfare Service of the local authority to mount what has become known as a Truancy Patrol. The mode of operation is for Education Welfare Officers to stake out, say, a shopping centre in the company of uniformed police officers. Not surprisingly, home educated children sometimes get caught up in the net.

There are a number of things to bear in mind about Truancy Patrols, because they have at times been a bit of a nuisance for some home educators. The first point to remember is that home educated children are specifically excluded from their remit. They are concerned only with pupils registered at a school. As soon as it is established that a child is not at school, then the interest of the Truancy Patrol should end. Needless to say, this is not always the case. Children on their own may well be taken home in order that their parents may confirm that they are in fact home educated. Even if they are with their parents, the EWOs will try to take names and addresses in order to see if the local authority is aware of the family. Neither the EWO nor the police officer have any right to be given the address of those stopped under this act. Nor do the police have the right to detain anybody. They may however remove children from a public place if they believe them to be registered pupils at a school.

When they first began, some of the truancy patrols had an alarming habit of routinely exceeding their powers. It was not at all unknown for EWOs and even police officers to give the impression that they had a perfect right to take names and addresses of home educated children, in order to check if they were known to the LEA. This is actually how my daughter and I came to the notice of Essex LEA. We had not been hiding, but nor had we bothered to notify the LEA of our existence when we moved to Essex. Although we made it plain to the truancy patrol that they were not entitled to demand our address, we gave it anyway because I could think of no particular reason not to do so.

It is important to remember that, at least for now, there is no need at all to give any personal information to either the EWO or the police officer in a truancy patrol. There is less anxiety about this than there was when the schemes first began to operate, but occasionally parents still express fear that because they are not registered with their local authority, they will get into trouble if they encounter a truancy patrol. It is not true. All that is necessary is to inform them politely that your child is not a registered pupil at a school and that you and your child are therefore beyond the scope of that particular law. There may well be some huffing and puffing and pursed lips, but the bottom line is that there is absolutely no power that can prevent you from simply walking off and declining to answer any further questions.


  1. This very subject was a hot topic at our meeting with the LA last night. Our local LA has mostly got it right now, but at the expense of various "interesting" encounters with truancy patrols. So they do accept the claim of home education from a parent and child without further questioning...but do they need to pull the family suddenly out of the till queue in Somerfield to do so? Clearly everyone thought they were shop lifting! And they do look for families in the most odd places - coming out of libraries, or actually in the library studying, or looking at maths books in Waterstones.... clearly highly suspicious! I would have thought the pier or the arcades likelier haunts for truants anyway!

  2. You know Julie, one cannot really blame the truancy patrol! Look at it from their point of view. You have a choice btween going where the real truants are likely to be found, as you say the amusement arcades on the seafront, or harassing a respectable looking mother with a child in tow. Which would you rather do? Imagine going into the arcade and trying to question a load of stroppy youths and work out which ones were really registered pupils at a school. Absolute nightmare! It is precisely the same locally. All the truants congregate on a patch of wasteground to drink and smoke with older, former pupils of their school. The truancy patrol is never seen there. Instead, they hang around the high road and cross examine mothers taking their kids to the dentist.

  3. The answer then is for all these timid and underemployed people to go and get trunats up and out of bed in the morning once they have not surfaced at school- since presumably the whole point of registration is to spot who isn't there...and they would be guaranteed to be actually on roll pupils...hmm