Thousands of fines handed to Devon parents for children missing school


- Credit: Archant

Thousands of pupils were missing from Devon’s schools every day last year, new figures have revealed.

The number of fines handed to parents for their children’s poor school attendance doubled compared to the previous year.

Department for Education figures show that 20 per cent of absences at Devon’s state secondary schools were because of unauthorised truancy or family holidays.

In 2017/18, 37,157 pupils were enrolled in secondary schools across the county. Of those, 5,421 children were persistently absent - missing more than 10 per cent of their annual classes.

There were 483 unauthorised absences but around 1,672 were authorised.

Primary schools did not fare that much better. A total of 49,558 children were enrolled state schools in Devon and 3,357 were persistently absent. There were also 1,585 authorised absences recorded and 396 unauthorised.

The number of fines handed to parents for their children’s absence also doubled last year.

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There were 2,020 penalty notices issued in 2017-18, up from 976 in 2016-17. And around 87 per cent of these were issued were for unauthorised holidays in 2017-18.

Across England, the number of fines issued increased by 75 per cent to over 260,000 in 2017-18 – and 85 per cent were for unauthorised family holidays.

The rise in fines comes after father Jon Platt lost a case at the Supreme Court in April 2017.

Mr Platt initially won a high-profile High Court case in May 2016 over taking his daughter out of school for a holiday to Disney World, Florida, without permission. The case was later referred to the Supreme Court, where Mr Platt lost.

The latest increase in the number of fines issued appears to be due to councils getting clarity from the Supreme Court judgment.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said requests for time off during term time can only be authorised in exceptional circumstances, which he said does not normally include holidays.

“The NAHT has clear and reasonable guidance on what constitutes exceptional circumstances.

“However, the system of fines is clearly too blunt an instrument and in many cases it drives a wedge between schools and families.

“The real problem is holiday pricing. Neither parents nor schools set the prices of holidays.

“They will both continue to be caught between a rock and hard place without some sensible Government intervention,” Mr Whiteman said.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Education Secretary has made clear, persistent absence from school is a society-wide challenge that we all need to work together to resolve - and while significant progress has been made, today’s data shows that has now plateaued.

“High quality education and pastoral care will make a real difference to children’s life chances, and that’s particularly important for those who are most vulnerable, but clearly key initiatives will only work if children are present.

“That’s why the rules on term-time absences are clear: no child should be taken out of school without good reason.

“We have put head teachers back in control by supporting them - and local authorities - to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence.”