Fall in number of school absence fines in Northumberland

Fewer fines were dished out to Northumberland parents after their children missed school last year.

By Patrick Jack
Friday, 24th December 2021, 1:13 pm
Not surprisingly, school absences fell significantly in 2020.
Not surprisingly, school absences fell significantly in 2020.

Department for Education data shows that 130 penalty notices were issued to Northumberland parents for a child’s poor attendance in 2020-21 – though measures did not apply for two months when schools were not open to all pupils.

Though no figures are available for 2019-20 because of the pandemic, the number of fines last year was down 87%, from 976 in 2018-19.

Of the fines last year, 123 (95%) were for unauthorised family holidays, while seven (5%) were for being late.

Across England, the number of notices issued fell from 333,400 to just 45,800 over this period – a fall of 86%, and the lowest number since 2011-12.

James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Fines have always been a blunt instrument when it comes to managing persistent absenteeism, and even more so if the reasons are related to the pandemic.

"Schools will be working closely with families where persistent absenteeism is an issue to provide the necessary support to help get pupils back into school.”

Penalty notices are £60 if paid within 21 days of being issued, but rise to £120 if paid between 22 and 28 days.

If the penalty is still outstanding, the council must either prosecute for the original offence or withdraw the notice.

There were almost 5,000 prosecutions for non-payment nationally last year – 26 in Northumberland.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It’s important that all children are in school during term time, particularly as most will have missed out on extended periods of face-to-face education over the last two years, and many continue to face ongoing disruption as a result of Covid.

“Head teachers have discretion over whether to classify an absence as authorised or unauthorised, and local authorities over whether to issue penalty notices.”

A DfE spokeswoman said fines are available to local authorities when there is no lawful reason for a child's absence, but other support to boost attendance can also be offered where appropriate.