School absence fines for parents to rise by £20

Fines for parents taking children out of school without permission will rise across England from September. The minimum fine will increase from £60 to £80 per parent as part of a government drive to return attendance to pre-pandemic levels.

One school told BBC News one out of every three of its pupils absent without permission had been on a family holiday during term time.

A head teachers’ union said fines were needed to avoid “chaos” in schools.

Local authorities currently have their own policies on when to issue fines, so the likelihood of parents being fined depends on their school’s location.

In a 2022 investigation, some local authorities told BBC News no penalties had been issued, while others handed out thousands in one year.

But in an attempt to create a more consistent approach across England, new guidelines tell schools to consider a fine after a child has missed five days’ school without the head teacher’s permission.

If parents fail to pay their fine within 21 days, it doubles.

Head teachers will retain some discretion over which cases to send to the council for potential fines and where support is needed.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan told BBC News most fines were for unauthorised term-time holidays.

Families with absent children should first be offered support – but fines were an important option.

“If it’s a deliberate decision to take your child out of school for unauthorised absence, then that’s something we do not want to encourage,” Ms Keegan said.

“We have to get children back in school, otherwise they can’t get access to a fantastic education.”

But the tougher approach will prove controversial with parents struggling to afford a holiday or who feel let down by the school system.

Family holiday
Some parents at Willows Academy, in Grimsby, tell primary head teacher Sarah Cox they cannot afford to go on holiday outside of term time.

Almost half of her pupils qualify for free school meals – about twice the national average.

The school has better-than-average attendance, which Mrs Cox puts down to the support offered to pupils and parents.

But in the run-up to October half-term, one out of every three of its pupils absent without permission was on a family holiday.

Fining parents is a last resort, Mrs Cox says.

“We feel that doesn’t have an impact,” she says.

“The thing that most supports our parents in understanding the importance of children being in school is the relationships.”

Parents of children at Sarah Cox’s school say they cannot afford to go on holiday outside of term time
Mrs Cox prefers to appeal to parents’ consciences, pointing out just a few missed days could put pupils behind in reading or maths.

At a soft-play centre in Redcar, Yorkshire, Charlotte Williams, holding her seven-month-old son, said fining parents for taking term-time holidays was “awful” because it might be the only time they could afford to go abroad.

Asked about the lost learning children taking term-time holidays might face, she said: “I actually think that they can do learning in other countries as well – it’s educational, going away. Bitesize: How parents can help their child get through tough times
The changes being set out on Thursday come after slow progress to improve school attendance since the pandemic – a problem other UK nations and other countries have also struggled with.

Persistently absent children are defined in England as those who have missed at least 10% of school, which adds up to about one month across a school year. In autumn 2019, 15% of secondary and 11% of primary pupils were persistently absent.

But in the autumn term of the current school year, 24% of secondary and 16% of primary pupils were classed as persistently absent, in government figures published last week.

Source: BBC

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