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Truancy and the Prosecution of Parents: An Unfair Burden on Mothers?


  • Jane Donoghue

    1. Criminology, Centre for Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford
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    • aLecturer in Criminology, Centre for Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford. Sincere thanks are due to Rosemary Auchmuty, Therese Callus, Sandy Ghandhi and Michael King for their insightful comments on an earlier draft of this article. I am also grateful to the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions.


This article considers the development and use of the law regulating the prosecution of parents under section 444 of the Education Act 1996, in the broader context of legislation and policy initiatives concerned with the governance of parental responsibility. It explores the ways in which the power to prosecute parents has been used by local educational authorities (LEAs) and interpreted by the courts. The article critically analyses the manner in which the powers emphasise punishment and retribution in the context of the social moralisation of ‘flawed’ parents; pay insufficient regard to the effects of parental responsibility laws on low-income, single parent families; represent an attempt to impose a simple solution on to a complex socio-economic problem; and amplify the scope for mothers to be made the subject of criminal justice interventions. It is argued that the prosecution of parents imposes an unfair burden on mothers and, in particular, single parent mothers.