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Number of parents fined over children's poor school attendance soars - these are the rules

Wales Online logo Wales Online 21/03/2019 James Rodger
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The number of parents fined for their children's poor attendance at school has rocketed by 74.7%, figures show.

There has been an increase in the number of penalty notices issued from 149,300 in 2016/17 to 260,877 in 2017/18, according to data from the Department for Education.

The most common reason for a penalty notice being issued was unauthorised family holiday absence.

A total of 85.4% of the penalty notices were issued for this reason in 2017/18, up from 77.5% in 2016/17.

The DfE said amendments to regulations and a number of high-profile court cases may have affected trends in recent years.

The rise in fines comes after father Jon Platt lost a case at the Supreme Court in April 2017.

Mr Platt initially won a high-profile High Court case in May 2016 over taking his daughter out of school for a holiday to Disney World, Florida, without permission.

a little girl standing in a parking lot: Universal Credit for families depends on the number of children - and when they were born © Credits: PA Universal Credit for families depends on the number of children - and when they were born

Previous figures suggest that after this ruling, many parents decided to take term-time breaks believing it was unlikely they would face action for doing so.

But the case was later referred to the Supreme Court, where Mr Platt lost.

The latest increase in the number of fines issued appears to be due to councils getting clarity from the Supreme Court judgment.

The DfE said it contacted a small sample of local authorities with large changes about the increase in 2017/18.

The fines

The amount owed under a penalty notice is £60 if paid within 21 days of receipt, rising to £120 if paid after 21 days but within 28 days.

If the penalty is not paid in full by the end of the 28-day period, the local authority must either prosecute for the original offence, or withdraw the notice.

Figures show 75% of penalty notices issued in 2017/18 were paid within 28 days, 10% were withdrawn, 7% led to prosecutions and 8% were unresolved at the end of the period.

Of the fines issued, 0.2% were for arriving late and 14.3% were for other unauthorised absence.

Separate data published by the DfE shows the percentage of pupils who missed at least one session due to a family holiday in 2017/18 was 17.6%, compared with 16.9% in 2016/17.

The overall absence rate across state-funded primary, secondary and special schools increased from 4.7% in 2016/17 to 4.8% in 2017/18.

The increase in the overall rate has been driven by rises in both the authorised and unauthorised absence rates.

The authorised absence rate increased from 3.4% to 3.5% in 2017/18, while the unauthorised rate rose from 1.3% to 1.4%.

The unauthorised absence rate in all schools is now at its highest since records began.

Related: The world's most elite boarding schools revealed (Lovemoney)

The rules

Meanwhile, before the figures were published, the Education Secretary defended the school exclusions system and suggested that truancy could be a better indicator for knife crime.

Damian Hinds said a "much bigger concern" than expulsions are those who are "persistently absent", which includes pupils who skip school or are long-term sick.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said requests for time off during term time can only be authorised in exceptional circumstances, which he said does not normally include holidays.

"The NAHT has clear and reasonable guidance on what constitutes exceptional circumstances.

"However, the system of fines is clearly too blunt an instrument and in many cases it drives a wedge between schools and families.

"The real problem is holiday pricing. Neither parents nor schools set the prices of holidays.

"They will both continue to be caught between a rock and hard place without some sensible Government intervention," Mr Whiteman said.

Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, chairwoman of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said: "Parents and carers have a legal responsibility to make sure children attend school regularly while schools will monitor attendance and raise any concerns with councils.

"If required, councils will support headteachers to take any action they feel necessary to address any issues with pupil attendance, including fining parents for unauthorised absences."

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