Cornwall Council is right with its policy on fines for school term time unauthorised absence

Yesterday, BBC Spotlight and BBC News Online ran a story about fines for unauthorised absence during school term time. One headline was Cornwall ‘has gone soft’ in how Cornwall Council deals with this issue. My reply to that is there are better ways of making children go to school, rather than using the sledge-hammer approach of fines. We in Cornwall are certainly not letting anyone get away with not attending school.

As I posted on Facebook, we have not gone soft in Cornwall, but unlike other local authorities, we take a more pragmatic view on how we deal with this subject. According to recent FOI’s, Devon has issued over 1600 fixed penalty notices (FPN) and Torbay near 1000 (998) FPN since 2013. The latter local authority has 39 (primary and secondary) schools. To be clear, I am not knocking other local authorities, as they are responsible for their own policies.

I will also be clear; a child should attend school as this will give that child the best education, which will be vital for life’s journey.

In Cornwall we have issued 16 FPN since 2013 (as of Dec 2015). For information, we have 272 schools. Why is Cornwall so different? My view, as the Cabinet Member who has the ultimate responsibility for the policy, is we want to work with head teachers and parents. It is about having a realistic view on the pressures for both parties.

Our policy allows the head teacher of a school the option of granting absence during term time for exceptional circumstances. As to what is exceptional circumstances is left to the head teacher as they know their children and the families. It would be completely wrong to have a one size fits all criteria for exceptional circumstances. If a head teacher wants to issue a fine, and the criteria for such action is met, then Cornwall Council will issue the fine on behalf of the school. We do this for all schools in Cornwall.

However, our policy also listens to head teachers on their concerns about unauthorised absences. They highlighted a concern about the number of unauthorised absence sessions. A review took place and it was felt appropriate to amend a part of the policy.

The old Code of Conduct required at least 20 unauthorised session absences (10 days) within one academic year, providing the parent has been warned within that year or had prior offence.

The new Code now states 10 unauthorised session absences (5 days) within 100 sessions (10 weeks), but the warning / prior offence should be within a calendar year. This allows schools to address cases where a parent may take the child out in the summer term and then again in the Autumn term.

If there is long-term absence, then the Council has other powers to address this. Our Education Welfare Officers (EWO) play a crucial part in understanding the reason behind why a child is no attending school. From this understanding the EWO work with families and schools to make sure that child attends. However, if that fails, then we as a local authority can and will take a parent(s) or guardian to Court.

Furthermore, and this is an important point, our overall absence for term-time holidays has fallen in Cornwall over the last few years as a proportion of all absences.

The figures are taken from, School Census (17/01/13) for Autumn 2012 and School Census (15/01/15) for Autumn 2014 (latest published figures)

Holidays taken in Primary

By % (2012) – 18.8%. Number of sessions missed 36,099

By % (2014) – 7.6%. Number of sessions missed 17,309

Holidays taken in secondary

(2012) – 10.5%. Number of sessions missed 14142

(2014) – 4.7%. Number of sessions missed 8326

These figures show that absences due to term-time holidays has fallen as a proportion of all absences, while we are also seeing a general fall in overall absences from schools in Cornwall.

The overall absences for Cornwall schools has remained low and below the national average for secondary schools and slightly above for primary schools. Taking all schools into account, the total percentage for the January 2015 census was 4%, while the national average has been above 5%.

Which sort of proves using a sledge-hammer approach by fining parents for unauthorised absence is flawed.

My view is rather than picking on parents, the Government should do something about the massive hikes for holidays during school holidays. These hikes make family holidays unaffordable for many. Though, the tourism industry will (and I am not disputing this) say they are struggling financially due to the changes, and therefore, they have no other option to increase prices during the school holiday period.

If you are interested, previous Blogs on this subject can be found HERE.

I also did an interview for the BBC programme (which the news bulletins was taken from) BBC Inside Out South West, which will be shown on Wednesday at 7:30pm.

 

 

9 comments

  • Martin Menear

    As a school governor, I support Cornwall Council’s approach to this matter. The effect of both peak holiday prices in a low income area and of the ability of many seasonal workers to even take holiday during holiday time means that this is a particulasr problem for Cornish parents.

  • Mick

    Martin Menear As a school governor surely you should realise all parents in Cornwall are affected by this not just Cornish parents. I’m glad my kids aren’t governed by you. I think you’re out of touch.
    Don’t think CC are doing the right thing, it shouldn’t be one rule for Devon and one for Cornwall it should be the same practice in issuing fines.

  • Andrew Wallis

    Mick,

    Each local authority sets its own policy using the governent guidelines. This goes for all policies. And like the unauthorised absence policy, just about all of our policies are different to Devon, as Devon’s are different to Plymouth and Exeter.

    I also need to remind you Mick, personal snipes against other commentators will result in posts not being publish. Comments should be directed at the blog topic, and not individual commentators. Their opinion is as valid as yours, and this blog is not for dicussion between commentators.

  • Mick

    Well that’s about right, I think you’re running a dictatorship on your blog like CC are trying to do at times, the difference with the council is you won’t get away with it because people won’t vote for you next time. I live in Helston. As for telling people not to snipe or confront each other except the blog post why didn’t you tell gilly zella martin not to confront me and not the blog post as well on the other blog post as well? Well when she reads your post here she’ll know anyway. I doubt that’s her real name anyway. No one posts under their full real names.
    It’s not sniping, its my true opinion, I don’t think it’s right of Martin Menear to say Cornish parents, it sounds discriminatory against other non Cornish parents, especially ethnic minority people in the area, and if you can’t see that then I expect you condone it, then I don’t think you should be in charge of the children’s area on the cabinet, and it’s something I might take up with the council because you’ve got it on your blog and you represent the council on your blog. If Martin Menear if that’s his real name, is a school governer then I’m glad he’s not in charge of my teenagers because it’s not a good example and I think really quite appalling for a school governor to put Cornish parents. Also you’ve put on your blog commentators and it should be commenters , there’s a difference just thought you should know. Also Martin Menear is just trying to promote the Labour Party, what did that have to do with the blog post? You’re discriminating between my opinion and his I think just because you think he’s important as a school governor, in the cabinet position you’re in, and you think I’m not important because I’m not Cornish. And of you were an honest Cllr you’d admit I am right. But then I suppose all cllrs think they’re right all the time. And in the past you’ve had a lot of discussions between posters like ‘worried worker’ and ‘another worried worker’ on here, and between a Chris Smith and Gilly Zella Martin, so you make the rules as it suits you. What’s the difference between their discussions and me pulling up Martin Menear that I think he’s wrong. I think you like to control people that don’t agree with your opinions or people like school governor opinions Martin Menear. I know you won’t post this but at least you know, and you can carry on with your cronyism of school and council workers.

  • Mick

    That’s good Cllr Wallis you’ve posted my opinion but because you said the blog is not for discussion between commenters, Gilly Zella Martin and Martin Menear can’t respond to me about my comments aimed at them, so that’s good.

  • Valerie

    So this blog is not for discussion between commenters but it’s ok for Mick to leave argument inciting comments that no one is supposed to respond to or have the right of reply to! That seems one sided with the odds stacked against Martin Menear.

  • Andrew Wallis

    I am not trying to close debate, but the blog is not a blog on comments between comments. It is on the subject matter where people can either agree or disagree, and add their own thoughts on with the subject

  • Valerie

    It still means Mick can leave argument inciting comments to which people like Gill and Martin Menear have no right of reply because Mick is off the blog post topic. Take a look at your other blog post for example, what on earth has what money Gill has given to charity got to do with that blog post, and in effect she has no right of reply because it’s off the blog post topic. Either have a rule or don’t. What has Micks last comment on this thread got to do with the blog post, nothing!!

  • Andrew Wallis

    I do try and stay balanced.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook