School term-time non-attendance Penalty Notices

There has again been a lot of media interest on the subject of talking children away from school for holidays during term-time. The LGA has now also weighed into the Government by calling for rules to be changed to give heads greater flexibility to allow parents to take their children on holiday during term time.

It is very important for a child to attend school and therefore gain the education and skills they need throughout their lives. However, family time is an important part in any child development and the Government should not financially penalise parents for wanting this family time.

Since the rule change in 2013, many local authorities have issued hundreds and in some cases thousands of fixed penalty notices to parents for taking their children out of school. In Cornwall, we have taken a more pragmatic view on this issue and have tried to understand the position not only of parents and their children, but also of head-teachers who often feel frustrated when parents take their children out during school time.

This pragmatic view reflects the number of fines head teachers have authorised and been issued. The criterion for issuing a fine is for a child to miss ten or more unauthorised sessions from School (2 sessions per day). To date this is the total number of fines  Cornwall has issued.

  • 2014 academic year – no penalty notices issued
  • 2015 academic year – 9 penalty issues issued ( three withdrawn and remainder issued to 1 family)
  • 2016 academic year (so far) – 3 penalty notices issued (2 to one family) * Not all of these are for term-time holidays; some have been for other unauthorised absences.

From the fines issued, none have resulted in Court action. It is interesting to note of the recent Court case in the Isle of Wight. If this was in Cornwall, it is highly unlikely a fine would have been issued because of the child’s attendance record. 100% leading up to the event and 93% after.

Because of the effective work of schools and our Educational Welfare Service, attendance has improved in Cornwall without resulting to the need of fining parents. The statistics below – taken from the school census – show for ALL absences taken, the % of which is due to holidays:

Holidays taken for Primary aged children

  • By % (2012).  18.8% Number of sessions missed 36,099
  • By % (2014). 7.6%   Number of sessions missed 17,309

Secondary aged children:

  • (2012). 10.5%, Number of sessions missed 14142
  • (2014) 4.7%     Number of sessions missed 8326

Head-teachers in Cornwall can still grant leave of absence in term time if the reason is exceptional. Head-teachers are responsible for deciding what is considered to be exceptional. This means that the decision on whether to grant leave of absence in term-time rests with the Head-teacher of each school and not the Council.

Though, to make sure there is consistency on what is a breach and therefore, has the potential to be subject to a Penalty Notice, the Council has a policy which has been compiled in conjunction with Head-teachers.

If a school decides it wishes to issue a penalty notice or prosecute a parent for poor attendance of their child, they would then contact the Local Authority which conducts prosecutions and issues penalty notices on behalf of the schools. Schools are advised that they should look at each case individually, but issuing a Penalty Notices should be on a second offence and should take into account the child’s overall absence levels. We would expect the evidence presented by a school to show they have concerns over attendance and that a parent has been warned previously.

Long-term and frequent non-attendance can be and is dealt by other legislation, and has always been a course of action open to LEA’s.

Will the law change? I doubt it, as the Government has been quick to dismiss the view of the LGA and others on changing the current rules.

However, one of the key arguments used by parents is the huge increase in the cost of holidays during the six-week summer holiday period which leaves family holidays unaffordable to many families.

That reader is the elephant in the room, and I would like to see the Government take action to address this. I know myself when taking my son away the eye-watering changes in prices for the same holiday, just because it is in the six-week holiday period.

 

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