June 12, 2024

New Changes to Penalty Notices for School Absences: What Parents Need to Know

This post was written by: Riya Sekhon

The Government has announced a new legislation to deal with the problem of unauthorised absences in schools. 

Previously, Local Authorities and councils would each have their own rules to deal with unauthorised absence.   These could vary widely from region to region.   Now, the Department of Education (DfE) has implemented significant changes in a unified approach to issuing Penalty Notices for unauthorised school absences.   These changes aim to ensure consistency across all Local Authorities and introduce increased charges for Penalty Notices.

Key Points of the New Framework

Nationwide Consistency –

  • All Local Authorities will now follow the same rules, providing a unified approach across the country
  • A Penalty Notice must be considered at the trigger point of 10 (half-day) sessions (or 5 full days) of unauthorised absence within a 10 week period or by 5 consecutive days of Term Time Leave.

Exceptional Circumstances –

Term Time Leave is only permitted in exceptional circumstances, which must be communicated in advance and supported with evidence to the Headteacher as soon as possible.

Exceptions and Special Cases are –

  • Illness
  • Pre-approved exceptional circumstances
  • Religious observance
  • Lack of provided transport
  • Gypsy/ Traveller families – considerations are made for families with no permanent residence, and who are required to travel for work

Notices to Improve –

  • This is a final opportunity for parents to improve their child’s attendance before a Penalty Notice is issued. If a parent fails to engage with support or if previous notices have had no effect, a Penalty Notice can be issued during, or at the end, of the designated improvement period.

Penalty Notice Charges –

  • First Offence:
    • £160 per parent, per child, payable within 28 days
    • Reduced to £80 per parent, per child, if paid within 21 days
  • Second Offence:
    • £160 per parent, per child, payable within 28 days
    • No reduction for early payment
  • Third Offence Onwards:
    • Case presented directly to the Magistrate’s Court
    • Fines up to £2500 per parent, per child
    • Possible criminal record if found guilty in court
    • Jail sentence up to three months

Financial Implications –

  • Penalty Notices are issued per parent, per child. For example, if four siblings are absent the parents will get fined £640 each, £1,280 altogether.

Support and Legal Measures –

  • Support First:
    • Schools and Local Authorities will first attempt to provide support to help improve attendance
  • Legal Actions:
    • If support fails or absences are unauthorised, measures can include Fixed Penalty Notices, Education Supervision Orders, or Prosecution.

These changes will be implemented in August 2024 although practically speaking they will be in force for the start of the 2024-2025 school year (commencing in September 2024) with schools informing parents of the new rules within the coming weeks.

The guidance additionally imposes a duty on schools to share daily data with the government as well as new absence codes to be sued.