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School fines for unauthorised absences will be tougher from September 2024





Parents will face bigger fines from September for taking their children out of school without permission.

Ahead of the new school year, the government is introducing tougher measures to crack down on authorised absences and drive up attendance and here’s what it might mean for your family:

The amount parents pay for missed sessions is increasing. Image: iStock/Imgorthand.
The amount parents pay for missed sessions is increasing. Image: iStock/Imgorthand.

What is changing?

From August the government is introducing new rules that will increase the amount of money parents who are fined for taking their children out of school will need to pay.

Under the current rules it is the responsibility of the local authority to decide when to issue fines to parents - which means the process can vary from council to council across the country.

But a new national policy - being introduced in time for the start of the new school year in September - will insist that all schools will be required to consider a fine when a child has missed a set number of school days for unauthorised reasons, such as a family holiday.

Families will risk a fine for an unauthorised absence - such as a family holdiday. Picture credit: istock/SolStock.
Families will risk a fine for an unauthorised absence - such as a family holdiday. Picture credit: istock/SolStock.

When might I get a fine?

Under the Education Act parents have a legal duty in England to make sure their child is getting an education when they reach compulsory school age.

This is defined by law as the school term after they turn five to the last Friday in June in the school year in which they turn 16 by the end of the summer holidays.

From August all schools will be obliged to consider a fine when a pupil misses 10 or more school sessions for unauthorised reasons. A session counts as either a morning or an afternoon in school.

Therefore 10 missed sessions is the equivalent to five whole days of school.

Children, says the government, must be in school unless they’re unwell. Image: iStock.
Children, says the government, must be in school unless they’re unwell. Image: iStock.

How much will a fine cost?

The current penalty is £60 per parent, which rises to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

From August 2024 when the new policy is introduced, the fine for school absences across the country will rise to £80 - per parent - if paid within 21 days, or £160 if paid within 28 days.

This rate rise, says the Department for Education, is in line with inflation and is the first increase since 2012.

Families wishing to take their children out of school for a holiday risk a fine. Image: iStock.
Families wishing to take their children out of school for a holiday risk a fine. Image: iStock.

Can you get more than one fine?

Under the new rules, education chiefs are also pledging to tackle repeat offenders and those who may choose to regularly allow their children to miss school in favour of paying the fine.

If a parent is given a second fine for the same child within a three-year period, this fine will be charged at the higher rate of £160 with no option for a discount if paid early.

Fines per parent will be capped to two fines within any three-year period.

Once this limit has been reached, other action like a parenting order or prosecution may be considered.

If you’re prosecuted and have to attend court because your child hasn’t been going to school, you could get a fine of up to £2,500.

Parents need permission - in advance - to take their children out of school. Image: iStock.
Parents need permission - in advance - to take their children out of school. Image: iStock.

How will schools and councils keep track?

Schools are going to be required to share daily attendance registers with education officials, councils and trusts so that the data can be used to identify ‘worrying trends’ of persistent absence.

Government are bringing in universal rules that’ll apply across the country. Image: iStock.
Government are bringing in universal rules that’ll apply across the country. Image: iStock.

What if my child needs to miss school?

Children, says the Department for Education, should attend school every day that it is open, unless they are ill.

And if your child is missing - without permission in advance from the headteacher - then you may risk a fine if the number of absent days breaches the threshold.

Other reasons that may be authorised for a child’s absence include:

*You have asked in advance and been given permission by the school for your child to be absent on that day due to exceptional circumstances.

*Your child cannot attend school on that day because it is a day you are taking part in religious observance.

*Your local authority is responsible for arranging your child’s transport to school and it is not available on that day or has not been provided yet.

*You are a gypsy/traveller family with no fixed abode, and you are required to travel for work that day meaning your child cannot attend their usual school.

The government is promising more support for those struggling to go to school. Picture: iStock.
The government is promising more support for those struggling to go to school. Picture: iStock.

Why is the government getting tougher?

The Department for Education says there has been a ‘worldwide rise’ in absence and persistent absence from school since the pandemic, which broke the habits of coming to lessons each week combined with other barriers such as mental ill health.

Alongside forcing schools to share statistics to understand how their attendance figures compare nationally and locally, and increasing fines for parents, there are also plans to expand the use of the attendance hubs programme.

This aims to share best practice when it comes to encouraging pupils into school and supports those facing particular challenges with getting some children into the classroom.

The government is promising a ‘support first’ approach with struggling pupils to ensure that regular meetings between schools and councils happen to agree formal plans for the most at-risk absent children.

Speaking when the changes were first suggested earlier this year, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “Our fantastic schools and teachers unlock children’s imagination, potential and social skills which is why improving attendance is my number one priority.”

Steve Wilkinson, President of the Association of Education Welfare Management which runs attendance support in local councils added: “Putting these measures on a statutory footing helps reinforce the importance of school attendance and the need to ensure families receive the support they need, when they need it, working together to ensure any barriers to attendance for children are removed.”



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