More than 12,000 fines given to parents for taking children out of school

More than 12,000 fines have been issued to parents and guardians in Essex who took their children out of school during term time over the last three years.

A freedom of information request has revealed a total of 7,796 children were referred for penalty notices due to parents taking them out of primary and secondary schools since academic year 2018-2019.

12,616 fines were issued to parents and guardians in total during the same time period, according to a Freedom of Information request by the LDRS.

Fines are issued to those with parental responsibility, so the total number of penalty notices is not the same as the number of children who were taken out of school, according to the response from Essex County Council.

The response also said 332 parents had been prosecuted in court during the period.

A spokesperson for Essex County Council said in a statement: “Parents have a legal duty to ensure their children attend school regularly in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school.

“Essex County Council has a statutory duty to ensure that this legal obligation is fulfilled in accordance with the Education Act 1996 but it is the expectation that schools will initially work with parents/carers and support agencies to improve a child’s school attendance, accessing all appropriate early intervention programmes and working together to improve and sustain attendance.

“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 number of fines handed out to parents, children referred for fines and parents prosecuted in court was higher for primary schools than secondary schools.

In 2018/19, 4,223 penalty notices were issued in total to parents of children in primary school, and 1,711 to parents of children in secondary school.

This figure was 3,561 for primary schools versus 1,903 for secondary schools in 2019/2020 and 830 for primary schools versus 388 for secondary schools in 2020/21.

4,223 primary school and 1,711 secondary school children were referred for the fines in 2018/19, compared with 2,331 primary school children and 1,342 secondary school children in 2019/20 and 506 primary school children and 272 secondary school children in 2020/21.

The drop off in figures in 2020/21 is likely explained by closure of schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2018/19, 129 parents were prosecuted in court, compared with 63 in 2019/20 and 140 in 2020/21.

According to the response, the fines are £60 during the first 21 days but £120 if parents choose to pay between days 22 and 28.

Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter