School absences plummet amid pandemic

The number of unauthorised school absences has fallen dramatically compared to the same period last year – new figures have shown.

There were 1,228 fines for unauthorised school absences handed out between September 1, 2019 to October 14, 2019.

However, just 225 fines were issued between September 1, 2020 to October 14, 2020. Of these 221 were issued in relation to a holiday taken during term time.

Essex County Council (ECC), which responded to a FOI request, added it was not aware of any penalty notice fine issued due to parents keeping their child out of school over COVID-19 fears.

The pandemic appears to have made a decisive impact. Foreign and domestic travel has been severely restricted since the start of the pandemic in the spring last year, while many parents have felt relief that schools have re-opened.

It was just two months before COVID-19 struck that in January 2020 ECC argued that stiffer penalties need to be imposed to force parents to provide proper education for their children.

Council figures show the numbers of children being taken out of school to be home educated has tripled in a year.

The risks of children hidden and missing from the education system are highlighted in a briefing on Children Missing from Education by cabinet member Cllr Ray Gooding.

Between June 2018 and June 2019 the number of children and young people being removed from a school roll in favour of elective home education increased by 33.8 per cent.

The overall total number of children in elective home education also increased sharply – in 2013 the number was 1,187, which had increased to 2,058 by April 2019.

ECC recommended to the government that the £1,000 fine that can be imposed on parents when children are totally missing from the education system is insufficient, especially given that each parent is liable for a fine of up to £2,500 and/or three months imprisonment as punishment for a child’s repeated truancy.

Parents are allowed by law to home school their children, but the dramatic increases have sparked concern that while it is clear some children will be properly educated at home, some children are not receiving a decent – if any – education.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter