Virus measures drive down school absence fines

Schools in Northumberland issued significantly fewer fines to parents after their children missed school last year, new figures reveal.

School attendance fines plummet
School attendance fines plummet

Department for Education data shows that 130 penalty notices were issued to parents in the area 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 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Though no figures were available for 2019-20 because of the pandemic, the number of fines was down 87% from 976 in 2018-19 – with 123 (95%) due to unauthorised family holidays.

Penalty notices are £60 if paid within 21 days, rising to £120 if paid between 22 and 28 days.

There were 26 prosecutions for non-payment of fines in Northumberland last year.

Fines for school absences dropped significantly in England during the pandemic – falling from 333,400 in 2018-19 to just 45,800.

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.”

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Headteachers have discretion over whether to classify an absence as authorised or unauthorised, and local authorities over whether to issue penalty notices.

"All involved will be mindful of the difficult circumstances of the last two years when making those decisions.”

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.