Sheffield has one of highest prosecution rates for parents of children missing school

Sheffield had one of the country's highest prosecution rates for parents who failed to pay fines after their children missed school last year.

Wednesday, 15th April 2020, 12:24 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th April 2020, 9:34 am

The Association of School and College Leaders says absence is not only disruptive to the pupil concerned but their peers and teachers as well, and has urged parents to follow the rules.

Department for Education data shows that Sheffield parents were prosecuted on 979 occasions for not paying penalties for their child’s poor attendance in 2018-19.

It means 17% of the 5,914 fines doled out during the year resulted in legal action – well above the average of 7% across England.

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Missing school is agaijnst the law

Penalties for poor school attendance have surged over the last few years nationally, following a high-profile court case involving Jon Platt.

Mr Platt initially had a fine overturned by magistrates after taking his daughter to Disneyland during term time. The judgment was later upheld by the High Court.

But the Supreme Court found against him in 2017, ruling that no child should be off school without good reason and clarifying that regular attendance meant "in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school".

In Sheffield, penalty notices rose by 7% in 2018-19 compared to the previous school year.

Of these, 89% were handed out for an unauthorised family holiday.

Over the same period, the rate of unauthorised absence – the proportion of all available half-day school periods missed without permission – rose marginally, from 2.2% to 2.3%.

Across England, fines rose by 28% to more than 333,000 in 2018-19. This followed a 75% increase the previous year.

The vast majority of these (86%) were for unapproved term-time holidays.

The DfE said many councils cited the Supreme Court judgment when asked to explain large increases.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said the significant number of fines showed the sanctions were an imperfect solution, but added that they were better than no deterrent at all.

He said: “A term-time holiday disrupts not only the learning of the child concerned but is also more widely disruptive to the school in general.

“Teachers have to help the pupil who has missed lessons to catch up, adding to their workload and potentially taking time away from other pupils.

“We understand the difficulty of affording the cost of holidays during peak season, but the rules are there for the good of all children in the school community, and we would appeal to all parents to respect this fact.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said the real problem was holiday pricing.

“Neither parents nor schools set the prices of holidays. They will both continue to be caught between a rock and a hard place without some sensible government intervention,” he added.

Penalty notices are £60 if paid within 21 days of being issued – in Sheffield, 3,374 fines worth £202,440 were paid within this time.

The fee rises to £120 if paid between 22 and 28 days – this was the case on 1,018 occasions in the area, equivalent to £122,160.

If the penalty is still outstanding after this, the council must either prosecute for the original offence or withdraw the notice.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Local authorities now have greater clarity on when they can issue fines to parents who take their children out of school without good reason – and this is reflected in the increase.”

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