Term-time holidays drive record unauthorised school absence fines

Almost 400,000 penalties were issued by councils last year, DfE data shows

Almost 400,000 penalties were issued by councils last year, DfE data shows

absences fines

The number of fines issued to parents for unauthorised school absence has rocketed to its highest level on record, resuming a trend seen before the pandemic.

Data published by the Department for Education today shows 398,796 penalty notices for unauthorised absence were issued in 2022-23. This is up from 218,235 last year and higher than the 333,388 in pre-pandemic 2018-19.

Today’s data shows the vast majority (89 per cent) of absence fines issued last year were for unauthorised family holiday absence, up slightly from 86 per cent before the pandemic.

The number of fines for this reason has increased from 288,239 in 2018-19 to 356,181 last year.

It comes after research by Public First identified a “radical shift in the way term time holidays are viewed, and the scale at which they are being taken”.

During focus groups, parents across all social groups “talked openly about taking their children on holiday during termtime, and those that did not were very sympathetic to it”.

There has been a “seismic shift in parental attitudes to school attendance”, the report concluded.

It comes amid widespread concern in the education sector about attendance more generally, which has not recovered since Covid lockdowns.

In 2021-22, the overall absence rate was 7.6 per cent, much higher than the pre-pandemic norm of around 4.5 per cent.

Absences have remained stubbornly high since then, at 7.5 per cent in 2022-23. So far this term, the rate sits at 6.4 per cent.

Despite the rise in the number of fines, the number of parenting orders made by the courts following prosecution for unauthorised absence fell from 38 in 2021-22, to 30 in 2022-23.

These orders require parents to attend counselling or guidance sessions and to comply with specified requirements.

At the same time, number of education supervision orders – which councils must consider applying for before prosecuting parents – increased from 33 to 46.

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