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Number of parents fined for poor school attendance rockets almost 75%

The most common reason for a penalty notice being issued was unauthorised family holidays.

The Department for Education has issued figures on school absence rates (PA)
The Department for Education has issued figures on school absence rates (PA)

The number of parents fined for their children’s poor attendance at school has rocketed by 74.7%, figures show.

There has been an increase in the number of penalty notices issued from 149,300 in 2016/17 to 260,877 in 2017/18, according to data from the Department for Education.

The most common reason for a penalty notice being issued was unauthorised family holiday absence.

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(PA Graphics)

A total of 85.4% of the penalty notices were issued for this reason in 2017/18, up from 77.5% in 2016/17.

The DfE said amendments to regulations and a number of high-profile court cases may have affected trends in recent years.

The rise in fines comes after father Jon Platt lost a case at the Supreme Court in April 2017.

Mr Platt initially won a high-profile High Court case in May 2016 over taking his daughter out of school for a holiday to Disney World, Florida, without permission.

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Jon Platt lost a lengthy court battle over taking his daughter on holiday when she should have been in school (PA)

Previous figures suggest that after this ruling, many parents decided to take term-time breaks believing it was unlikely they would face action for doing so.

But the case was later referred to the Supreme Court, where Mr Platt lost.

The latest increase in the number of fines issued appears to be due to councils getting clarity from the Supreme Court judgment.

The DfE said it contacted a small sample of local authorities with large changes about the increase in 2017/18.

It said: “All six that responded cited that the Supreme Court judgment in this case had an effect on the number of penalty notices issued in 2017/18, either as a result of returning to pre-court case levels following a slowdown or from a change in behaviour as a result of the ruling.”

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(PA Graphics)

Of the 222,904 notices issued for unauthorised holiday in 2017/18, the five areas with the most were Lancashire (7,575), Bradford (6,687), Hampshire (6,616), Essex (6,603) and Derbyshire (5,567).

Of the 260,877 notices issued overall in England in 2017/18, the five areas with the most were Essex (8,741), Hampshire (8,694), Lancashire (7,891), Bradford (6,849) and Suffolk (6,556).

The amount owed under a penalty notice is £60 if paid within 21 days of receipt, rising to £120 if paid after 21 days but within 28 days.

If the penalty is not paid in full by the end of the 28-day period, the local authority must either prosecute for the original offence, or withdraw the notice.

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(PA Graphics)

Figures show 75% of penalty notices issued in 2017/18 were paid within 28 days, 10% were withdrawn, 7% led to prosecutions and 8% were unresolved at the end of the period.

Of the fines issued, 0.2% were for arriving late and 14.3% were for other unauthorised absence.

Separate data published by the DfE shows the percentage of pupils who missed at least one session due to a family holiday in 2017/18 was 17.6%, compared with 16.9% in 2016/17.

The overall absence rate across state-funded primary, secondary and special schools increased from 4.7% in 2016/17 to 4.8% in 2017/18.

The increase in the overall rate has been driven by rises in both the authorised and unauthorised absence rates.

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(PA Graphics)

The authorised absence rate increased from 3.4% to 3.5% in 2017/18, while the unauthorised rate rose from 1.3% to 1.4%.

The unauthorised absence rate in all schools is now at its highest since records began.

Meanwhile, before the figures were published, the Education Secretary defended the school exclusions system and suggested that truancy could be a better indicator for knife crime.

Damian Hinds said a “much bigger concern” than expulsions are those who are “persistently absent”, which includes pupils who skip school or are long-term sick.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan and seven police and crime commissioners had written to the Prime Minister warning that a “broken” exclusion system was contributing to the issue.

The real problem is holiday pricing. Neither parents nor schools set the prices of holidays Paul Whiteman, NAHT union

But Mr Hinds, writing in Thursday’s Daily Telegraph, said “the reality is more complex”, with only about 3% of knife attacks perpetrated by someone excluded in the previous year.

One study suggested four fifths of young knife offenders were persistently absent in one of the five years leading up to the offence, he added.

Thursday’s DfE figures show that the percentage of pupils in state-funded primary and state-funded secondary schools that were classified as persistent absentees in 2017/18 was 11.2% – up from the equivalent figure of 10.8% in 2016/17.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said requests for time off during term time can only be authorised in exceptional circumstances, which he said does not normally include holidays.

“The NAHT has clear and reasonable guidance on what constitutes exceptional circumstances.

“However, the system of fines is clearly too blunt an instrument and in many cases it drives a wedge between schools and families.

“The real problem is holiday pricing. Neither parents nor schools set the prices of holidays.

“They will both continue to be caught between a rock and hard place without some sensible Government intervention,” Mr Whiteman said.

Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Parents and carers have a legal responsibility to make sure children attend school regularly while schools will monitor attendance and raise any concerns with councils.

“If required, councils will support headteachers to take any action they feel necessary to address any issues with pupil attendance, including fining parents for unauthorised absences.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Education Secretary has made clear, persistent absence from school is a society-wide challenge that we all need to work together to resolve – and while significant progress has been made, today’s data shows that has now plateaued.

“High quality education and pastoral care will make a real difference to children’s life chances, and that’s particularly important for those who are most vulnerable, but clearly key initiatives will only work if children are present.

“That’s why the rules on term-time absences are clear: no child should be taken out of school without good reason.

“We have put head teachers back in control by supporting them – and local authorities – to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence.”

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