19th September 2022
School Fines for Absences Are Different Across England
BBC "Panorama" investigation reveals huge differences across the country
Parents in England whose children miss school can face harsher penalties depending on where they live according to a Panorama investigation. Fines, which start from £60, but rise if not paid promptly, totalled more than £8.6m in the past school year. However, some local councils revealed that no penalties had been issued, while other authorities handed out thousands.
In the past school year, Luton had the highest rate - 97 fines per 1,000 pupils. And yet, Warrington and City of London councils said they had issued no penalties at all.
When local authorities decide to issue fines to parents whose children have missed significant amounts of education, a child's reason for being absent should be taken into account. Usually, fines only come at the end of a process of trying to engage with families. If these fines are not paid, parents could be prosecuted.
Rachel de Souza, the Children's Commissioner for England, says children and their parents must have "nothing to fear" when seeking support for their particular reasons for being absent.
Claire Huddart - principal of Horizon Community College, Barnsley - leads a five-strong attendance team, who examine the reasons why pupils are missing from school. She says fines are very much a last resort. She said; "If we are working closely with a family and you put in place a fine, that breaks the relationship between home and school. It's so important we keep it positive."
Children's Commissioner, Rachel de Souza, has told Panorama it should be the "top priority" in education for Liz Truss's government and she would like to see a whatever-it-takes approach to meeting children's needs. She said; "I think it's important that in any drive to attendance, we make it really clear that no individual is being judged. I do understand that if you've felt the system has failed you, parents could feel upset about it. We have to overcome that."
This view is shared by Claire Huddart at Horizon Community College in Barnsley. Every day, her attendance team follows up on children absent from school with phone calls - and then, home visits. At the start of this term, when it became cheaper to go on holiday, 50 families took children out of school - many for several weeks. Mrs Huddart then has to weigh up family circumstances, and whether issuing a fine would prevent unauthorised absences from happening again.