Unauthorised absence during the school term – debunking the myths

You can tell we are heading to the school summer holidays, as the issue of taking children out of school during term time is currently de-rigueur. From listening to parents on this issue, I think there are many misunderstanding and popular myths that surround this issue. I hope this blog will clarify the Council’s position, the role of the school Headteacher, and the law.

Let’s start with the law. Prior to September 2013, when the Government made amendments to The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006; a Headteacher was able to grant leave of absence for the purpose of a family holiday during term time in “special circumstances” of up to ten school days leave per year. This changed in Sept 2013 when the Government made amendments to the 2006 regulations and removed references to family holiday and extended leave as well as the statutory threshold of ten school days.

A Headteacher can still grant absence in exceptional circumstances. Furthermore, it is also up to the Headteacher to determine the number of school days a child can be away from school if the leave is granted.

One popular myth is on The Penalty Notice. The notice is not intended or treated as a ‘on the spot’ fine. In fact criteria has to be met before a notice can be issue. One of the criterion is: the level of absence that is necessary before a Penalty Notice can be issued in any circumstance is 20 or more half-day sessions i.e. the equivalent of 10 school days, of unauthorised absence during any 10 school week period. As laid out in point 3.1 of the Code of Conduct for issuing penalty notices in respect of unauthorised absence from schools. This criterion of issuing the notices has not changed, and is the same as pre-September 2013 when the amendments came into force.

So who can issue the Penalty Notice? The agreement between the schools and the LA is the LA will issue the notice. This is of course once the Headteacher reports this to the LA and the issuing criteria has been met.

A Penalty Notice can be issued as per section 5 of the Code of Conduct:

  • when a pupil has had 20 or more half-day sessions i.e. the equivalent of 10 school days ,of unauthorised absence during any 10 school week period. This includes term time holidays where the parent has been informed in advance that a Penalty Notice may result from such unauthorised absences.
  • when the circumstances of the pupil’s absence meets all the requirements and criteria in the Code of Conduct; and
  • when the issuing of a Penalty Notice does not conflict with other intervention strategies in place or other sanctions already being processed

It should also be noted that when an Authorised Person is considering issuing a Penalty Notice they should bear in mind that the response to a first offence should be a formal warning rather than a Penalty Notice – as laid out in section 5.3 of the code.

Cornwall has been compared to Devon and questions ask why Cornwall has not issued any Penalty Notices (yes zero) when Devon has issued over 800. The answer to that is each LA sets its own Code of Conduct. Other LA’s might take a more draconian stance, and fine quicker, but in Cornwall’s case, we like to take a more balance approach to the issue by working with head teacher’s, governors and parents.

Whist there is still an unacceptable level of unauthorised absence in Cornwall’s schools; absence sessions in primary schools have reduced from 36,100 in 2012 to 23,100 in 2013. A similar pattern happened in secondary schools over the same period with overall absence has reduced from 14,100 to 10,300. These figures are for half-days and not full day’s absence. If you want to compare Cornwall nationally, then Cornwall is below the national average for unauthorised absence for in both primary and secondary schools.

So we must be doing something right in Cornwall and the data shows that more children are now attending school in Cornwall without the need to unduly prosecute parents.

Policy and more information can be found HERE

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