School’s Out – the Facts around Term-Time Absences
With news that parents across England and Wales have been fined approx. £24m over the last three years for not sending their children to school, it has now emerged that parents are budgeting for fines as part of their holiday planning.
According to the Department of Education, the average pupil absence rate is 4.5% and the spiralling cost of vacations in school holidays continues to make the news. Only last year a father from the Isle of Wight lost his battle around taking his child out of school for a holiday, after the Supreme Court ruled that even children with high attendance should not be taken out of school in term-time.
So what exactly are the rules about my children missing school?
Children are expected to attend school ‘regularly’ but are allowed to miss school if they are too ill to attend, or if parents have advance permission from the school for exceptional circumstances, such as a funeral or religious holiday.
However, in the case of family holidays during term-time, there are concerns that children’s future performance is affected by too many missed days. To take your child out of school you must receive permission from the head teacher; parents are required to complete a leave of absence form at least four weeks before the expected absence and send it to the school. Once received, the school will respond within seven working days to approve or deny the request.
What happens if I take my child out of school without permission?
Depending on the circumstances, you will be given one or more of the following by your child’s school, or your local council. You may also be guilty of an offence under section 444 of the Education Act 1996, which states that it is an offence to fail to make sure your child goes to school ‘regularly’ and are therefore also at risk of prosecution.
Effectively, this means that you will need to go to parenting classes and listen to the court’s recommendations for improving your child’s attendance.
Education Supervision Order
If the council deems you in need of support getting your child to attend school, but believe you are not cooperating they can apply to a court for an Education Supervision Order. A supervisor will then be appointed who will help you to ensure your child attends school. However, you may still be prosecuted.
School Attendance Order
If the local council believes your child is not receiving an education then you will receive a School Attendance Order and will have 15 days to provide evidence that your child is registered with the school in the order, or that you are providing a home education. If you fail to show evidence, you may be fined or prosecuted.
The local council can also give you a fine of £60, rising to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days. If you fail to pay this within 28 days then you may be prosecuted. This fine is applied to each parent, for each child, so if you are a two-parent family with three children, you could be fined £360.
If your child’s school or local council decides to prosecute then you could face a fine of up to £2,500, a community order, or even a prison sentence of up to three months. The court will also give you a Parenting Order.
Is there no flexibility for my child missing school?
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in April 2017, the definition of a child attending school ‘regularly’ has been further defined to mean ‘in accordance with school rules’. It can be frustrating for parents, particularly if they have children at different schools where holiday dates do not match. However, absences can be disruptive for both teachers and other pupils and parents have a responsibility to ensure their child receives a proper education.
According to the Ministry of Justice, more than 20,000 people are prosecuted for child absences in the UK each year. If you receive a summons to the Magistrates Court you should seek the advice of a criminal solicitor, as if you are found guilty you could find yourself with a criminal record.
If you are looking for some initial advice or have something which you just want to run past us, then take advantage of Caversham Solicitors’ free and fixed fee consultations, available for most matters. Call now on 0800 085 5575