Tighter rules are coming in on kids being absent from Nottinghamshire schools

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Nottingham Post

The rules around the use of Education Penalty Notices in Nottinghamshire schools are set to be tightened in a bid to improve attendance, the Nottingham Post reports.

At the moment parents can receive a £60 fine for allowing their children to take three unauthorised days away from school for a holiday over a period of six weeks. This won’t change.

But currently the penalty notice for any other unauthorised absence – not including holidays – is triggered when a child has five days away from school during a six-week period. Now this will be brought into line with holiday absences.

It will mean that penalty notices will be served for all children taking just three unauthorised days off school in a six-week period, regardless of whether it is for a holiday or any other reason.

The County Council’s Children and Young People’s Committee approved the plans – set to come into force in January 2018 – at a meeting on October 16.

Councillor Philip Owen, chairman of the Children and Young People’s Committee, at Nottinghamshire County Council, said that the decision would bring Nottingham in line with government expectations.

He said: “We do understand the predicament that many families find themselves in struggling to afford a holiday when the costs rise so significantly during the school holidays.

“However, the council’s 2015 decision to reduce the threshold for issuing fines was made to bring our arrangements in line with national government expectations and to support our commitment that pupils should only be absent from school in exceptional circumstances.”

Five Labour councillors abstained from the plans, with Councillor Sue Saddington suggesting a different approach to fines.

She said: “I think it is doubly important that we play our part, and the council should encourage schools to make every effort through newsletters and parents evenings to enforce the importance.

“At the end of the day, students are at school to learn. I have a real issue with children going off on holiday and not being in school, because it is something I do not allow in my family.”

A penalty notice is £60 if paid within 21 days of issue and £120 after that. A head teacher can issue a penalty notice, or ask the county council to issue one.

On average, it costs around £180 to administer a £60 penalty notice, largely due to the number which go unpaid and which then need to be taken to court.

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Despite the five councillors abstaining, the committee approved the plans with six voting in favour.

Councillor Owen added: “School attendance is important and not an option, unfortunately the Labour party wasn’t prepared to support that. I think that is completely the wrong message to be sending out.”

But speaking after the meeting Labour councillor John Peck said: “‘It is very important and essential that we find ways to ensure children attend school, but we have to consider the policies we put in place to achieve this.

“If a change to a policy is not having an impact and yet costing the council significantly more, then the policy should be fully reviewed.”

Headteachers are unable to authorise absence for the purpose of taking a holiday during term time; they only authorise a leave of absence in exceptional circumstances.

Where an absence is unauthorised, a fine is often offered to parents as an alternative to prosecution.

To date for the 2016-17 year, the council has issued 3,567 notices. compared to 2,240 in 2015-16 and 369 in 2014-15.

The council believes there is evidence of a link between good attendance and good attainment. Nottinghamshire’s overall and persistent absence rates are below the national average, with 4.4 percent teaching sessions missed compared to 4.6 percent nationally.

Although the county council is bringing all its Education Penalty Notices in line, the city council has said it doesn’t have any plans to change its criteria for how fines are issued.

As well as fining parents, the council has a scheme called ‘Check & Challenge’, truancy patrols, and a reward scheme to promote the message of zero tolerance.

Councillor Sam Webster, Portfolio Holder for Business, Education and Skills at Nottingham City Council, said: “Fines for unauthorised absence are issued at the request of schools. We will continue to take a hard line against the parents of children who are persistently absent from class – the law says pupils must be in school every day unless they are too ill to attend.

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