unauthorised absence from school

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janela | 10:26 Mon 22nd Sep 2008 | Parenting
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Please can anyone tell me the legislation that entitles a local education authority to give fixed penalty fines for unauthorised absence from school and double it if not paid after a certain period, and so on and so forth. I was under the impression that there is no law requiring a parent to send a child to school at all so how do they enforce this 'rule'. If there is any legislation that backs this up I would appreciate being directed to it. My daughter is taking her children out of school for a three day period before the half term and a four day period after the half term. Neither of them are in an exam preparatory period and are doing well, are never absent otherwise. The school head of year is very sympathetic as he has looked at their records and sees no justifiable reason for them to be refused authorisation. Unfortunately he says the authority to agree to their absence is taken out of his hands. My daughter is very reluctant (on principle) to pay this, it seems to me that it is a bullying tactic towards easy targets, i.e. the parents who responsibly deal with their children's attendance at school, and does absolutely nothing about the real truants whose parents do not care less. By picking on easy and willing targets they believe that they are being seen to be doing something (as well as raising a bit of extra cash A bit like speed cameras in that they do nothing to deal with the real problem, except that speeding IS actually against the law. We as a family feel like taking them on in court as we can certainly justify that these children will be learning at least as much where they are being taken as they will sitting behind a desk. However, we would like to be able to study the law on this matter first, or have advice from anyone out there who has taken this matter up further with their local education authority.


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There is indeed no requirement to send a child to school. Parents can educate them at home and, if this is done, no checks are made to ensure that minimum standards (or indeed any standards) of education are achieved.

However, if a child is registered to attend a school then Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 makes it an offence to fail to secure the regular attendance at that school.. The Act can be viewed here: 60056_en_27#pt6-ch2-pb1-l1g441

If the Local Education Authority (LEA) believes an offence under S444 has been committed they may issue either a fixed penalty notice or a summons to attend court. A fixed penalty notice need not be accepted and instead the parent can ask for a court hearing. The maximum fine if convicted in court is �1,000.

�Leave� of absence may be granted by school heads, though a more robust stance is being taken by some LEAs in response to the large amount of term time being currently lost due to parents taking their children out of school for holidays. They are removing the head�s discretion to grant leave and this seems to be what has happened in your daughter�s case.

My advice (if you want it) is to avoid taking this matter to court. If the LEA has a robust policy on absences for holidays in term time that is their right. The fact that no exams are imminent is not relevant. Children are required to attend for the entire term. Your daughter will almost certainly be convicted of an offence if she does take the child out of school having been warned not to do so and subsequently refuses to accept a fixed penalty. The result will be a criminal conviction and costs of considerably more than �80.
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Thank you for the link. I have looked at the legislation, how mad is it that you can remove your children from school totally and not have to show any evidence of a programme of education for them, but cannot be sanctioned a few days out of school for a family holiday. Some parents have to take their holidays when their employers say and this is not always during school holiday times since competition for these weeks is always keen especially in a large organisation. Still that is the law and obviously we have to live with it no matter how bizarre it appears to be. I would be very interested to know if any parents have actually asked for a court hearing and what the outcome was. I find it hard to believe that the parents of children who are persistently truanting are paying all of these fixed penalties and I have only ever heard of one parent who has actually been subjected to the weight of the court and I believe that this was as much to do with neglect as anything else. You mention a sum of �80, is this a statutorily laid down fixed penalty amount as speeding fines appear to be, or simply at the discretion of the education authority to set the amount it wishes.
The fixed penalty of �80 is a national figure which cannot be varied locally.

The idea of a fixed penalty is to avoid the need (and expense) of a court hearing. It also avoids a criminal conviction (only courts can award convictions). The downside is that the recipient cannot put forward any mitigation.

In the course of some of my work I have seen a number of people appear in court under S444. They have all been there because the LEA has not offered a fixed penalty (FP) because they considered the transgression was too serious. None was there because they chose not to accept an FP. I can recall only one pleading not guilty and that was on the basis that the parent was unable to control the child and despite her best efforts she was unable to secure attendance.

The law is quite clear. There are exceptions allowed which mean that no offence is committed. Among those exceptions is where �leave� has been granted, but the granting of leave is at the Head�s or LEA�s discretion. The starting point to remember is that children are required to attend every day, and that securing leave of absence is a privilege, not a right.

Opting for a court appearance if you intend to plead guilty is pointless. Your �day in court� will simply cost you dearly and result in a criminal conviction.

If you plead not guilty all the prosecution will have to prove is that the child did not attend school and that none of the exceptions allowed in law applied. In the circumstances you describe they will have no difficulty in doing this so a conviction will almost certainly result, and the costs will be considerable. (The penalty will be higher as you lose the discount allowed for a guilty plea, and you will be liable for prosecution costs). The magistrates will not be asked to consider whether leave should have been granted as it is not a matter for them.


So my advice remains the same (which I believe you will also receive from a solicitor). Steer clear of court proceedings in this matter, try to resolve it via the Head, but if you cannot and the child must be taken out of school, then accept the fixed penalty if it is offered. You must bear in mind that if the offence is repeated it is unlikely that a second FP offer will be made � you cannot simply �buy� unauthorised leave for �80 every time you feel the need.

Many LEAs have recently strengthened their stance on granting leave for holidays. The situation is becoming serious in some areas. Some LEAs have reported that up to 20% of pupils are taking holidays in term time and it is becoming increasingly difficult for teachers to maintain their teaching programme. (You must bear in mind that although each of them may take only a few days off, each individual �few days� is spread across the term and each pupil has to be coached to catch up the time they have lost).

Unfortunately the ease with which some parents have managed to secure permission to take their children out of school in the past means that it is now difficult to undo the belief that many have, that they can take their children out as a right.
In my experience, parents of persistent truants ARE taken to court and not given fixed penalty tickets. There is a family who live near me - mum & dad are divorced but live in the same street - and they have 3 children who are totally out of control. Mum is an agoraphobic (unless she is running low on heroin, when a miracle occurs and she can go out) so dad takes the rap for the kids. He has been to court twice for each child so far (a total of 6 court appearances). His fines are normally in the range of �100.
Does this now encourage parents to lie and say their children have suddenly developed a sickness when all they need is permission to have a couple of days away.

If this is the case, it gives the children involved the wrong attitude to Authority.

I fully agree children should not have a day off to go and get a new pair of shoes ect.

Why should some faceless wonder in the LEA make this decision, they do not know the child or its' parents, the true circumstances all they can see is extra money to the department, another stealth tax.
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Thanks for your responses. My view on this is that I find it difficult to understand that a skiing trip (with the school) is considering part of a child's education and therefore acceptable to be taken partially in term time, but a holiday in term time with parents is not. I am old enough to remember the days when two weeks out in term time was always sanctioned for any parent who requested it and as far as I can remember there was very little truanting going on then. This is doing nothing to deal with truanting as I think they are two completely separate problems. To say that children see others going away with parents as exactly the same as taking a few days off just because you feel like it completely ridiculous. Responsible parents do not give their children permission to skive off school just for the sake of it, although I am y sure that irresponsible parents do, and they are a whole different situation. I think it is completely wrong that parents, along with the school are not able to discuss in an adult manner whether it is acceptable for that particular child, at that time to go away with the school's decision being final The education authority knows nothing about individual children to have sufficient information to make a decision. This is a one size fits all way of dealing with children absent from school and totally detracts from parental ability and authority to make decisions. Many parents cannot afford to go away in school holidays and it is wrong of the education authority to deny them a family break. As I said already there is much more to producing a rounded adult than simply sitting behind a school desk. If this was recognised more then perhaps children would not feel the need to simply not turn up. It actually says a lot about the quality of the education system in this country when so many children do not want to be there.
I have just had a holiday request refused by my daughter's school on the grounds that 'not being able to afford a holiday out of term time' was not a "valid" reason.
I was then informed that if I went ahead and took her out of school then I would be breaking the law and insinuated that an ASBO could be on the cards(even if I was to pay the £50 fine)
In my opinion all that these schools aim to do is tick boxes to maximise their reputation of sucess. If denying a child a holiday is in the child's best interests then the priorities are all wrong!!
I shall resubmit a second holiday request and use the reason of " I can't get any other time off work" this should be a valid reason, so the school staff tell me! If not then I shall just go on holiday and pay the fine as this is still cheaper than paying school holiday prices.
In my opinion I think that all cases sholud be assessed individually. I just hope that the second request will be accepted
Hi, i'm a bit confused as to were the school stands on unauthorised absences, i put in a holiday request form for my three children, two are in secondary school and one in primary), i had a letter from the head master (secondary school) to say he would authorise the absence of the children, due to the fact that, the children's father had just come back from abroad on R & R from the army, and he didn't know when he would get home to see them again, as we are divorced. This morning i received a letter telling me that i had to attend a meeting to discuss the children's attendance, then i was told just because the was the absences were authorised, they were still classed as unauthorised absences!!! Confused because i am! Does anyone have any advice on this as it seems to me absolutely ridiculous, My children don't have time off school unless ill so i think that they are being very unfair.
Heads have a discretionary up to 10 days to play with, this is discretionary and by no means guaranteed. Local Education Authorities constantly pressurise the schools to improve attendance and therefore it is in the interest of the authority to pursue the fixed penalties. It is worthwhile researching the exemptions that allow Heads more scope to be willing to afford you the time off, ie you are unable through your work shutdown to get time off at any other time, be warned that if this is challenged and you are found to not shall we say be telling the truth, you may comit an offence more serious than the fixed penalty !!
I too have just got back a letter of refusal to take my son out of his school for ten days. He was due to fly out and meet some of his family inc his gran, which sadly would be the last time he will ever have this chance. He has no exams during the time requested and he has had 2 days off (sickness) in the whole 5 years he has been at the school....but still they refused! If I was sure the fixed penalty was the only come-back, I would probably just take him anyway.
this is really frustrarting, the rules need to be looked into seriously by the goverment or whoever sets them, becuase we all suffer because of the real skivers, i would like them to sort out something, we have been looking at booking a holiday end may june trying to overlap in term time but its too expensive, the schools tell us to not book holiday until you have put in a holiday request form however, if we book it needs to be spur of the moment when the flights are at there cheapest by the time i have put in a form and it coes back the fligthts for term time would have gone up, the only way that the schools should resolve this is to seriously pay the difference/extra for a holiday in halfterm, even then work commitments are a pain, there must be somebody who can change the rules, argggh so frustratring only want 1 week holiday
This is all absolutely outrageous, my family was recently hit with fixed penalty notice when my daughters took 5 days off schools. I have 3, 2 go to the same school andwe rang their school up n the first day they took off. BUt when we phoned my youngest daughters school up they were closed. Fair enough, we forgot to call back after that, but after we went to her school, they embaressed us even though the oonly reason we took those 5 days off to look after my married daughter who had a heart problem and has two kids as well. This act is just encouraging lying and i no loger have any faith in our local council, and we don't want to appeal as we don't have the money to at all, so now we have to pay a hefty fine for no reason. I'm disappointed in this act.
Are we as parents within our rights to fine the school if the children are told not to attend during term time??????????

I would suggest that all parents send their school a letter informing them that they will be expected to pay a fine to parents should the school shut down because of no heating, snow etc.

I don't believe it is fair that there is one rule for one, and one rule for another so let's all attempt to even the playing field a little.

Taking my child on holiday is a right I have as a working mother and free citizen. If I cannot (as most parents can't) afford to take my child during school holidays then I should have the right to take them during term time. It is not a legal requirement that my child should be educated at a school and I don't remember signing any contract to say that I would uphold a 100% attendance or face the consequences.

Perhaps the Government should have put a ban on holiday companies raising their prices during school holidays and this wouldn't be such an issue for the entire nation with kids in education.

Does this rule also apply to higher education - college, uni etc. If not, why not?????

Can any tell me if I am legally entitled to fine the school for them keeping my child out of school (snow days, teacher absence etc)

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