PARENTS who keep children from school without a good excuse face fines under a Coalition state government.
Alarming new figures show absenteeism is rampant at many state schools. In the worst cases, students are missing for an average of one day in four.
In some areas, absenteeism is on the rise because students from low-income families are desperate to hang on to part-time jobs.
Mooroolbark College students last year averaged 45 absentee days.
Lakes Entrance SC (30 days) and Upwey High (25) were also high on the list, according to Education Department data released under Freedom of Information laws.
There are higher rates of absenteeism at some indigenous-based schools and colleges catering for troubled students.
The Victorian average is about 14 days.
Parents face fines of $116 a day if their children are absent without a valid excuse, such as illness, accident or an unforeseen event.
Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon yesterday said the law was a toothless tiger because the Government had watered down school disciplinary procedures.But it is believed this truancy fine has never been enforced.
"We will give more support and powers to principals to tackle these truancy issues," he said.
"And we will further support them by ensuring that current penalties for truancy are actually applied," Mr Dixon said.
Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Brian Burgess said fines were sometimes justified.
"I'm not that keen on the punitive approach, but I accept that in some cases it may be the way to go," he said.
"Most of the time it's about working with the families to get them back on track and working with the kids to get them back on track."
Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said students were expected to attend school unless there was a valid reason for absence, such as illness and medical appointments.
"Last year the Education Department provided schools with guidelines to help address attendance issues with students and their families," she said.
She said the new Ultranet online network in schools would enable parents to go online and check if children were attending school.
Melbourne University education expert Prof Richard Teese said many disadvantaged students missed school because of part-time jobs.
"They get jobs at places like McDonald's or Bunnings or Kmart, and then they have to fit in with the hours that the store wants," he said.
"Teachers have told me, 'they're not turning up when they should be. They've got jobs and they need to work'."
Youth worker Les Twentyman said every school should have a welfare officer to keep an eye on wayward students.
The Education Department said truancy accounted for a fraction of student absenteeism, which could be distorted by regular non-attendance of just a few children.