Fines for taking children on holiday without permission from school hits record high in Essex

More parents in Essex are being fined for taking their children out of school than anywhere else in the country.

Essex County Council imposed a record 12,017 fines on parents for taking their children out of school without permission for holidays in 2022/23.

That is up from the 1,218 in 2020/21 and the 6,828 imposed in 21/22.

It is significantly up from the pre-Covid levels seen in 2018/19 when Essex County Council imposed 9,609 fines on people taking children on holiday in term-time without permission.

Altogether there were 12953 fines in total covering all types of breaches – equivalent to a rate of with a rate 6.6 fines per per 100 enrolments. This is compared to Doncaster Council which issued 16.2 fines for every 100 pupils in the area, and just 0.2 fines issued for every 100 pupils in Cumbria.

Nationally, a record number of parents were fined for their children’s absence from school last year – mainly because of term-time holidays.

The latest statistics from the Department for Education reveal that nearly 400,000 penalty notices were issued to parents in the 2022/23 school year.

That was up massively from just 220,000 the year before – an 83% increase – and was the highest number ever recorded.

More than 356,000 of those fines were due to unauthorised term-time holidays, again a record high, while just under 1,000 were due to late attendance, and around 42,000 were for other reasons.

Parents have a legal duty to make sure their child attends school, and if they don’t they can be issued a £60 fine that must be paid within 21 days, otherwise the amount increases to £120.

If still unpaid after 28 days, the parents can be taken to court, where they can face fines of up to £2,500 or a three month prison sentence.

The county council says Essex is one of the largest authorities in the country and therefore the number of fines issued should reflect this.

Councillor Tony Ball, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Education Excellence, Lifelong Learning and Employability, said: “Parents have a legal duty to ensure their children attend school regularly in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school.

“It is the expectation of the Department for Education that parents and carers will initially work together with schools and support agencies to improve a child’s school attendance. Where parents choose to take holidays during term time, Headteachers may choose to request that penalty notice fines are issued by the local authority in line with our published local code of conduct. During the academic year 2022/23, Headteachers requested a record number of penalty notice fines via the local authority.

“Every lesson really does count, and it is important that parents send their child to school so they can access and enjoy all the educational opportunities and experiences and ensure they get the best start to academic life.”

The Government has said driving up attendance and tackling persistent absence is at the centre of new stronger measures launched today as pupils return to school.
There will be 18 new attendance hubs across six regions, bringing the total to 32 and will see nearly 2,000 schools helped to tackle persistent absence.

Commenting on the Secretary of State for Education’s statement on January 8 on the Government’s plans to reduce absence from schools, Jessica Prestidge, Deputy Policy Director of the Centre for Social Justice said Government action continues to fall short.

“The Education Secretary has said that tackling school absence is her number one priority, but the expanded pilot will reach just three per cent of severely absent children at most in 2024/25.

“With severe absence back at record highs, and one in five children persistently absent, much more is needed. The Government must rebuild the fractured relationship between parents and schools, starting with a National Parental Participation Strategy. Attendance mentors must be rolled out nationwide as a matter of urgency. And Department for Education guidance on attendance should be made statutory.

“Our latest polling by YouGov suggests nearly one in five parents are worried about their child’s attendance and want more support from school, rising to nearly a quarter of parents on low incomes.

“Only a quarter of parents said their child’s school communicates with them very well, compared with nearly 40 per cent who say communication is not good enough.

“The consequences of so many children missing so much school will only result in unfulfilled lives, fractured communities, and spiralling costs to the taxpayer for picking up the pieces. The Government urgently needs to get to grips with the unfolding crisis of school absence.“

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter