Unauthorised pupil absences at record high but fewer parents fined for taking children out of school

'The rise in unauthorised absence is due to more parents taking children out for family holidays that were not agreed by the school'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Thursday 22 March 2018 18:49 GMT
Simon Calder exclusive interview with Jon Platt

Fewer parents were fined last year for taking their children out of school without permission despite unauthorised absence rates in England reaching a record high, new Government figures show.

Around one in six (16.9 per cent) pupils missed at least half a day of lessons during the 2016-17 school year – up from 14.7 per cent, the Department for Education data shows.

However, the number of fines issued to parents for taking their children out of school without permission fell by 5.4 per cent. More than three-quarters of fines were for unauthorised holidays.

The figures cover the period after a father won a High Court case in May 2016 for taking his six-year-old daughter out of school for a holiday to Disney World, Florida, without permission.

It suggests that more parents took the decision to take term-time holidays following the ruling as they believed they were less likely to face a fine.

A total of 149,321 fines were handed out in 2016-17, compared with 157,879 the previous year. The highest rate of penalty notices was Yorkshire and Humber, and the lowest was the West Midlands.

However, the case of Jon Platt, from the Isle of Wight, was overturned by the Supreme Court in April last year.

Today’s figures show the unauthorised absence rate is at its highest level since records began – after rising from 1.1 per cent in 2015-16 to 1.3 per cent in 2016-17.

“This increase in unauthorised absence is due to an increase in absence due to family holidays that were not agreed by the school,” the report said.

Justine Roberts, chief executive of parenting forum Mumsnet, said: “It’s possible that some parents saw coverage of the High Court judgment and thought they had official permission to book term-time breaks.”

But she added that other parents “will have spotted that the decision couldn’t be interpreted that broadly”.

”When the Supreme Court has to weigh in on what should be a straightforward matter of home/school communication, and when parents are poring over the judgment to assess its relevance to their situation, it feels like an indication that something isn’t working optimally,” Ms Roberts added.

Government regulations amended in 2013 state that term-time leave may only be granted in exceptional circumstances – which was expected to lead to more penalty notices issued.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Children only get one chance at an education and evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs.

”Therefore we believe that no child should be taken out of school without good reason – and the Supreme Court agrees with us. The rules on term-time absences are clear and we have put schools back in control by supporting them – and local authorities – to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence.”

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