There is a significant rise in the local authority issuing Educational Penalty Notices to parents or taking them to Court because of unauthorised absence of children from school, according to the information obtained under Freedom of Information.
Harrow local authority issued 55 notices in 2013, 187 in 2014 but 281 in 2015 (up to 31 July). A Penalty Notice is an alternative to prosecution, which does not require an appearance in Court – nationally the penalty of £60 is imposed, if paid within 28 days of receipt of the notice, rising to £120 if paid after the 28 days.
In 2013, the local authority took eight parents to court, involving ten children (9 in secondary schools). The parents were found guilty and seven were issued with fine. In 2015 (up to 31st July), eight parental prosecutions involving eleven children (7 in secondary) were brought by the local authority – the parents were found guilty and six were fined.
Courts can issue maximum fines of £2,500 or jail sentences of up to three months.
No doubt good attendance helps pupils learning but we also support calls for more flexibility in the rules to allow heads to take account of family circumstances where absence was unavoidable. They “should be trusted to make decisions about a child’s absence from school”, asserts David Simmonds of the Local Government Association.
In Harrow, 82.1% of school children are from a black or minority ethnic group (Context of the Review of Health Services by CQC).
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers quite rightly said “extended absence must be tackled by schools with support and dialogue first“.
“Equally, though, government must do what it can to support families. Cutbacks to essential services can increase the barriers to attendance” he pointed out.
In Harrow, 21.2% of children aged under 16 years living in poverty (CQC Review).
We would like the Harrow local authority and MPs to address truancy by improving parents socio-economic conditions and helping the schools to become more enjoyable place – just forcing pupils to come to school does not necessarily make them good learners.
A follow up news article by a local newspaper!