Pupil absence fines soar, but smaller proportion lead to prosecution

The number of fines issued to parents for unauthorised absences of their children at school has increased almost five-fold in the last five years, but a smaller proportion are being prosecuted for failing to pay.

Figures released today by the Department for Education show that 151,125 fines were issued in 2014/15, compared to 53,370 in 2012/13 and 32,641 in 2010/11.

Of the fines issued in 2014/15, 71 per cent (108,024), were paid within 28 days, raising at least £6.5 million for councils, while 10 per cent (15,283) of recipients were prosecuted after they failed to pay them.

This represents a significant drop since 2010/11, when 17 per cent (5,629) of all fines issued led to prosecution for non-payment. The proportion of fines which led to fast-track prosecutions has also plummeted from 18 per cent in 2010/11 to 4 per cent in 2014/15.

The rise in unauthorised absences follows a rule change in 2013, when the government stripped from headteachers their ability to authorise up to 10 school days’ holiday each year. Now they can only authorise leave in “exceptional circumstances”, which teacher unions have since backed – stating that even short periods of absence can be disruptive to schools and pupils.

The data release also comes at a time when tensions over term-time holidays and unauthorised absence policies are running high, with officials fearing a backlash from parents after Jon Platt won a high-profile High Court case against Isle of Wight council, which fined him for taking his daughter out of school to go to Florida.

The government has stood firm in the face of the ruling, which was described by the schools minister Nick Gibb during a House of Commons debate in May as representing a “significant threat” to efforts to improve school attendance. Gibb has also said the government will seek “whatever measures necessary” to firm up term-time holiday rules.

Nick Gibb MP
Nick Gibb MP

Figures released earlier this year show that although the proportion of absences authorised for family holidays has fallen in recent years, the proportion of unauthorised absences which occurred as a result of parents taking their children on holiday has actually risen.

The issue will be debated in Parliament again next week after almost 200,000 people signed a petition calling for penalty fines to be scrapped and a return to the system which was scrapped in 2013, which allowed headteachers to authorise up to 10 school days of absence per year.

The petition, launched by Nottinghamshire dad Dave Hedley, who faced a fine for taking his children out of school for a holiday, despite informing the school the break was planned to fit around his wife’s cancer treatment.

Hedley said the law currently forced families to pay more for holidays during official school breaks, and said councils were “too ready to fine” and weren’t prepared to accept exceptional circumstances.

He said he and his wife had each received two fines each for taking their two eldest children out of school for five days in term time “which was the only week free from surgery and radiotherapy”.

“[The] school knew of [the] cancer diagnosis,” he added. “This apparently is not an exceptional circumstance.”

Hedley’s petition has 194,576 signatures. It became eligible for a parliamentary debate once it passed the 100,000 signatures mark, and will be discussed by MPs in Westminster Hall from 4.30pm to 7.30pm on Monday.

Steve Double MP
Steve Double MP

The debate will be led by the Cornish MP Steve Double, who has been a strong advocate of a relaxation of the roles on the grounds that tourism in areas such as his St Austell and Newquay constituency would benefit.

However a government spokesperson said this morning the rules were “perfectly clear” that children should not be taken out of school “without good reason”.

“That is why we have tightened the rules and are supporting schools and local authorities to use their powers to tackle unauthorised absence,” he said.

“The evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances – vindicating our strong stance on attendance. A child who is absent also impacts teachers, whose planning of lessons is disrupted by children missing large portions of teaching.”

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  1. The interesting figures are those showing the MASSIVE drop in fines issued since my victory at the High Court in May 13th. In one case the drop was over 600% year on year (Jone 2015 versus June 2016). this data is JUST in following my FOI request and can be viewed at the following link:

    The EVIDENCE does NOT show that absence due to family holidays has a negative impact on attainment. It shows the absolute reverse. NOT MY EVIDENCE but the evidence se out in the research done by the DfE. You can view it at this link. Then click on the template letter to MPs to see the ACTUAL data and links to the actual research paper. Don’t believe the DfE propaganda.

    • Vicky

      I had a fine and paid it then was fined again due to harassment from a teacher that wouldn’t leave my daughter alone wrong hair wrong shoes wrong skirt the list goes on , now because I didn’t pay the fine due to them giving the fine after the dead line so how was I Kent to pay , now I am being taken to court and prosecuted for not paying it when I think this is so in fair I didn’t even take her out for a holiday she was ill and to scared to go to school as she thought the teacher who sent the fines would keep on at her this is harassment from this teacher it’s not fair and not fair I have to go to court , now she is picking on my son who attends the same school one day off and she has sent a letter al ready , I no many of there friends who have more time off yet they don’t even get a warning letter , now I get a letter saying to attend court in a weeks time not even time to back my case so unfair , why should I be fined for a child who is being harass by a teacher doesn’t leave us alone now my son is to scared to be ill as he thinks the school is going to put me in prison , please any help out there I am on my own with the school not litening to my story she only had a few days off not even weeks

  2. Tris Price_Williams

    I think fitting in family holidays around someone undergoing chemotherapy is probably a good reason for taking kids out of school.

    Family time is important, not just for the kids, but for the lady with cancer.