Parents face higher fines for taking children out of school in official crackdown on absences

Parents in England who take their children out of class without permission will face higher fines as part of a drive to boost school attendance following the pandemic.

The Department for Education says a fine must be considered if a pupil misses five days of school in an unauthorised absence.

Until now, fines have started at £60, rising to £120 if they are not paid within 21 days, but the department says they will now start at £80, rising to £160.

It is understood the higher fines will take effect from September.

Nearly 400,000 penalty notices were issued to parents in England in 2022-23 for unauthorised pupil absences – much higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Nearly nine in ten (89.3 per cent) of the fines were for unauthorised holidays as families booked cheaper breaks during term times, according to government figures.

To ensure councils issue fines appropriately, official guidance is expected to clarify when financial penalties should be issued.

Under the new measures – part of efforts to try to cut numbers of children regularly missing classes – every state school in England will have to share their daily attendance registers with the Department for Education, councils and academy trusts.

A national framework will be designed to help tackle inconsistencies in the use of fines.

Officials hope this will help schools to spot and support children at risk of persistent absence, or in danger of going missing from education.

In 2021, “attendance hubs” were launched, encouraging schools with strong attendance records to share their approaches with leaders in similar schools to help them to improve.

Most fines were for unauthorised holidays (Getty Images)
Most fines were for unauthorised holidays (Getty Images)
Officials hope the changes will help schools to spot children at risk of persistent absence (AFP via Getty Images)
Officials hope the changes will help schools to spot children at risk of persistent absence (AFP via Getty Images)

Rob Tarn, chief executive of the Northern Education Trust and founder of England’s first attendance hub, has now been appointed the country’s new national attendance ambassador.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Good attendance is obviously critically important, but fines have long proven to be too blunt a tool and largely ineffective at improving persistent absence.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was not unreasonable to increase fines given that they had been fixed for several years.

“However, it is important to understand that these fines predominantly relate to pupils who are taken out of school for term-time holidays. While nobody wants to be in a position of fining parents, there simply has to be a marker that this is not acceptable,” he said.

“Not only does it affect the child’s education, but it means teachers then have to spend time helping children to catch-up with lost learning. If everybody did this it would be chaos.”