Lowick and Holy Island C. of E. First Schools
The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 gave new powers to designated Local Education Authority Officers, typically Education Welfare Officers, Headteachers and the Police to issue Penalty Notices to parents in the case of their child’s irregular school attendance. These powers came into force on 27th February 2004. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 made changes to the 2003 Act by extending the use of Penalty Notices to include the whereabouts of excluded pupils. These provisions came into force on the 1st September 2007. Since its inception the triggers for issuing Penalty Notices has increased, due to the safeguarding issues around children ‘missing from school’
We at Lowick and Holy Island C. of E. First Schools believe that absence from school, for whatever reason, is detrimental to a child’s long term life opportunities, so should be avoided if at all possible. Reducing absence from school is a key priority, both Nationally and locally, as missing school damages pupil progress, attainment levels, disrupts school routines and can leave children at risk to anti – social behaviour, youth crime and possible exploitation (Safeguarding issues).
What is a Penalty Notice?
Penalty notices are fines that can be issued by a Local Authority (LA) or school to parents. An unauthorised absence is deemed to be;
When a pupil has an unauthorised absence of 10 sessions (5 days) or more, in any term time (where no acceptable reason has been given for the absence) or if the child persistently arrives late to school, after the close of Registration.
Parents will receive a written warning (by post to their home) of a Notice being issued, which will tell them the extent of the child’s absences, and give the parent 15 school days to effect an improvement. There is no limit to the number of formal warnings which can be issued.
When is a Penalty Notice appropriate?
- Parents of a registered pupil whose child fails to attend school regularly are committing an offence under section 444 (1) Education Act 1996. A penalty notice for irregular attendance can be issued where the parent is capable of but unwilling to secure an improvement in their child’s school attendance.
- Where a parent fails, without a reasonable excuse, to ensure that their excluded child is not present in a public place during school hours in the first five days of any exclusion, then s/he is committing an offence under section 103 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.
The notice will state the fine payable and the timescales for doing so (if paid within 21 days £60/child or £120/child if paid within 28 days). All payments are made to the LA. Failure to pay a Penalty Notice may result in prosecution.
Parents may also receive a Penalty Notice without a warning letter for the offence of failing to secure regular school attendance under the following circumstances;
- Holidays taken in term time.
- As part of the ‘fast track’ system to improve attendance. Ofsted state that a child should have an attendance of 95% or higher. If it falls below this level then it is deemed to be a ‘Safeguarding issue’.
- Inappropriate parentally condoned absence e.g. knowingly keeping the child off school for convenience, family events, tiredness or perceived ‘illness’.
- Child’s failure to return to school following a fixed term exclusion.
- Child is stopped on a truancy sweep.
- Persistent late arrival at school (after the Register is closed).
What are the advantages?
The benefits for both the LA and parents are:
- The LA can save some of the time and money that they spend on prosecuting parents. Savings could be considerable depending on local circumstances.
- Parents who accept (i.e. pay) the penalty will not get a criminal record for that offence.
Penalty Notices provide a much quicker, cheaper and more effective way of sanctioning parents who need to focus on their responsibilities for their children’s education.
Therefore Penalty Notices provide an alternative to prosecution and enable parents to discharge potential liability for conviction for an offence by paying the penalty.
What happens if a Penalty Notice is unpaid?
If a Penalty Notice is unpaid after 28 days and it is not withdrawn [see specific grounds details in the Education (Penalty Notices) Regulations (England) 2007] then the LA must prosecute the parent. Prosecution will be for the original offence of non – attendance/failing to ensure that an excluded pupil is not in a public place, and not for non-payment of the penalty. The court can impose a fine of up to £2,500 and/or a range of other measures, (depending upon the circumstances of the offence, such as:
- Parenting Order
- School Attendance Order (see below for additional information)
- Community Sentences
- jail sentence of up to 3 months
(A School Attendance Order is issued if the LA believes that the child isn’t getting an education. The parent has 15 days to provide evidence that they have registered the child with a school or that they are going to Home Educate).
Useful advice to parents;
- Send/bring your child to school on time every day.
- If your child is unwell, contact the school on the first day of absence and return your child to school as soon as possible.
- Make sure your child knows you do not approve of them missing school.
- Take holidays only during school holidays.
- Make sure your child goes to school with the correct uniform and equipment.