truants and their parents have been warned there will be nowhere to hide from today as police and social services begin Britain's biggest clampdown.

Teams of social workers and police will be combing the streets, hunting for children who should be in school.

They will be challenged and returned to school. Parents will warned, fined or prosecuted.

Research in the region has revealed that, in 50 per cent of truancy cases, parents have given permission for their child to miss school.

One in 13 pupils is a persistent truant, and across the country nearly a half a million skip school every day, despite government schemes costing £885m.

The month-long campaign in the North-East and North Yorkshire is part of a national operation.

Every local education authority in the country, which has not adopted the Government anti-truancy measures - including parenting contracts, penalty fines and fast-track prosecution systems - will adopt it this term.

Six previous truancy sweeps in the North-East have netted 2,828 truants, with a further 4,267 in Yorkshire and the Humber.

A spokeswoman for Durham County Council said: "Over the campaign, we will be involved with police officers in all the major towns and the city.

"They won't be on the same day, they won't be at the same time, but we will be stopping and speaking to people of school age and their parents and asking about their reasons for being absent from school."

Durham County Council has been a pioneering authority in tackling truancy and has been carrying out sweeps for more than seven years.

Middlesbrough Council will issue fixed-penalty fines from today.

Lesley Smith, the council's senior education social worker, said: "We will be putting on a lot more truancy sweeps across Middlesbrough over the next three weeks during the national initiative.

"Attendance support officers and police will be going around the town centre and out to estates.

"We are constantly collecting evidence of where children are gathering.

"But children will have no idea of when and where we are going to be out there."

Last year, the council took 47 parents to court, resulting in fines, community rehabilitation orders and conditional discharges.

Recently in Stockton, a parent was jailed for two weeks for allowing a child to play truant.

Parents are warned by letter that they could be issued with a fixed fine. The fines are £50 if paid promptly, rising to £100.

Between 1992 and 1997, Durham County Council increased by 20-fold the number of parents it took to court.

Since 2000, the council has invested more than £3m in ensuring children attend school.

The majority has been spent on providing a creative curriculum and pioneering anti-bullying work.

Last November, the council set up the first truancy-free action zone in the county, in Consett, South Moor and Stanley, followed by another zone in Sacriston, Pelton and Chester-le-Street in January.

A council spokeswoman said: "We made truancy our priority before others and started a playground passport system, whereby children who are legitimately off school for a reason can prove it. This was taken up by other authorities."

Schools Minister Derek Twigg said: "A stubborn hard-core of two per cent of pupils remain determined to jeopardise their education and their futures through truancy.

"We will also not hesitate to support schools and local education authorities that use sanctions, such as prosecution and penalty fines for those parents who are simply unwilling to get their children into school.