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Crackdown on ‘postcode lottery’ over school absence fines

Parents of pupils who are absent from school without good reason will face fines, the Government announced today (PA)
Parents of pupils who are absent from school without good reason will face fines, the Government announced today (PA)

Parents of pupils who are absent from school without good reason will face fines, the Government announced today.

The Government said that this would end a “postcode lottery” over how councils tackle school absences.

In a consultation published on Friday, the Government proposes that registers of pupils be kept electronically, with the Education Secretary given central access to national register data, while local councils could access all attendance data for schools in their area.

Parents whose children have five days of unauthorised absence or lateness within one term, take holidays during term-time, or are out in public during the first five days of an exclusion will face a fixed penalty notice, the plans suggest.

A parent would face a maximum of two fines for each child within the school year, with prosecution considered as the next step if this limit were reached.

The Government said that currently councils decide upon the threshold where fines are imposed on parents and that this would end a “postcode lottery” within a system where parents are fined for absence in some areas and not in others.

The plans would also tighten up rules on pupil absence in the case of illness. The current regulations allow a pupil’s name to be deleted from registers if their health makes it unlikely they can attend school.

The Government said this is “outdated given changes to provision for pupils with medical conditions to enable many of them to continue their education in their own school”.

It also suggests online learning could be recorded in the case of absence, as while currently a pupil’s participation in remote education cannot be recorded, “we recognise that as remote education technology develops…there may be a need for this type of participation to be recorded”.

It said that pupils with a child protection plan, education and health care plan or child in need plan should not be deleted from school rolls without the local council’s consent.

And the proposals suggest that pupils younger than compulsory schooling age should still have their absence recorded, whereas currently their attendance does not need to be recorded by law.

Pupils absent for 15 days or more for health reasons should also be reported to the local council to make sure they and their family get more support, the Government said.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “I know from the Children’s Commissioner’s work on school attendance that children themselves hugely value being in school with their teachers and their friends.

“My job is to make sure that every child can get those school experiences. The plans set out today to reform how absence fines operate, alongside our Schools Bill currently going through parliament, will improve consistency across the country and help tackle persistent absence.”

Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner, has called for attendance to rise to 100% by the 2022 autumn term in September, and has urged academy trusts to do “whatever it takes” to achieve this.