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.