Walsall Parents 'Face Jail' Over Children's School Sick Days

A Walsall couple with nine children are in ``shock'' after claiming to have been threatened with jail over their youngsters' school sick days.

Tracy and Paul Foster said they have been told by the local council to ensure two of their offspring make it to lessons in the new academic year, because of official concerns over the children's previous attendance.

Mrs Foster, aged 44, described the family's ``absolute shock'' after claiming Walsall Council education officials delivered the stark warning in a face-to-face meeting, earlier this year.

The council has said it is continuing talks with the Fosters but that days off school were granted, in line with policy, only ``in exceptional circumstances''.

Housewife Mrs Foster, from Great Barr, near Birmingham, confirmed she and her 47-year-old husband, who works for the National Blood Service, were called to an attendance meeting with the council in June.

The meeting was called after two of their children, 15-year-old Faith, and Lenny who is 12, each missed 15 days at school during the last academic year.

The couple claim they were then told they could be prosecuted if either child had any more time off sick after the new term starts in September.

Mr and Mrs Foster are also parents to Stephen, aged 18, 16-year-old Grace, Eily, aged ten, April, seven, Stanley, aged six, William, aged three, and two-year-old Frederick.

Speaking on the doorstep of the detached family home, Mrs Foster said: ``It came an absolute shock what they said, that basically we would automatically go to court and could go to prison.

``We didn't expect it at all.''

The two children go to the Barr Beacon School in Aldridge, Walsall, which is rated outstanding by Ofsted.

On the most recent visit to the school, school inspectors praised pupils attendance as ``above average'', pointing out the ``number of persistent absentees is low''.

The inspection report, from January last year, added: ``This makes a key contribution to the excellent progress students make.''

Walsall Council's schools chief, councillor Chris Towe, said: ``Children's Services at Walsall Council are in ongoing discussions with the Foster family over this matter and I would reiterate to all parents and guardians that consistent 85% attendance in local authority schools is a national requirement for all pupils.

The portfolio holder for learning, skills and apprenticeships, added: ``All schools issue standard guidelines to parents and guardians on attendance and punctuality.

``School absences are only granted in exceptional circumstances.''

In September last year, Birmingham mother Kerry Capper was cleared by magistrates of failing to send daughter Libby Bennett to school.

Ms Capper was issued with a fixed penalty notice from Birmingham City Council after the seven-year-old missed several days of lessons but ended up in court after she was unable to pay the fine.

However, Ms Capper successfully argued in court she had only kept her daughter off school over her real fears the little girl's cancer had returned.

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