Fines for unauthorised absence from school in England to rise by 33%

<span>Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, wants to bring fines for unauthorised school absence ‘under a national framework to help tackle inconsistencies’.</span><span>Photograph: Apex</span>
Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, wants to bring fines for unauthorised school absence ‘under a national framework to help tackle inconsistencies’.Photograph: Apex

Taking an unauthorised family holiday is about to get more expensive, with the government announcing that fines for children in England missing school are to rise by 33%.

The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, is to overhaul the way local authorities fine parents for unauthorised school absences by bringing penalties “under a national framework to help tackle inconsistencies”.

The Department for Education said that fines “must be considered if a child misses five days of school for unauthorised absence”, with local authorities currently having wide variation over whether they levy fines.

Under the new rules, the initial penalty notices will be raised from £60 to £80, if paid within 21 days. Those who delay payment will have fines raised from £120 to £160.

Related: Record 350,000 parents in England fined over term-time holidays with children

Schools’ daily registers will also be shared online with the DfE and local authorities, as part of the government’s drive to improve attendance from its post-Covid slump.

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.

“Today we are taking that next step to further boost attendance and I want to thank those who are working with us, including teachers and heads.”

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, stressed that most fines were applied to children taken on holidays during term time, while higher absences were often the result of serious issues such as mental health problems.

Barton said: “There is a wider issue about absence relating to the growing number of children who suffer from anxiety, families who are struggling to cope, and disengagement with education, which schools are endeavouring to address by working with families and pupils to improve their attendance rather than using fines.

“Schools need more help from the government in this work, both in terms of the funding they receive and investment in local social care, attendance and mental health services.

“Education has become an unofficial fourth emergency service, picking up the pieces for a decade-long erosion of support services. This cannot go on.”

In 2022-23, out of a total 399,000 penalty notices, a record 350,000 parents in England were fined for taking their children out of school for unauthorised holidays. The total was 20% higher than in 2018-19, the last full school year before the pandemic.

Labour’s Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said: “The Conservatives are only just waking up to the damage of persistent absence that has reached historic levels on their watch, but their answer addresses the symptoms of absence, not the causes.

“Persistent absence was rising long before the pandemic, the result of growing unaddressed mental ill health, the impact of years of economic decline hitting family finances and a breakdown of trust between schools and families.”