Toughen truancy penalties, says Government adviser
Fines for parents who do not ensure their children go to school should be increased, with the money taken automatically from their child benefit if they do to pay, says the Government's expert adviser on behaviour.
The proposal would mean the penalties would have more of a positive effect on ensuring all pupils attend school on a regular basis, says the adviser, Charlie Taylor.
Mr Taylor, who has worked in some of London's toughest schools, was commissioned by Education Secretary Michael Gove to look at the issue of school attendance following the summer riots last year.
Issuing fines to parents is one of the last resorts for schools to deal with absence problems.
If a head teacher decides to impose a fine, the parent has 28 days to pay a fine of £50; if they fail, then it is doubled.
After 42 days, if the parent has not paid, then the school or local authority has to withdraw the penalty notice, with the only further option being for local authorities to prosecute parents for the offence.
More than 32,600 penalty notices for school absence were issued to parents last year, and more than 127,000 have been issued since introduction in 2004. However, around half went unpaid or were withdrawn.
While independent research shows that more than three-quarters (79%) of local authorities said penalty notices were "very successful" or "fairly successful" in improving school attendance, local authorities feel court action is often a long-winded process that achieves very little.
In 2010, out of 9,147 parents taken to court and found guilty, only 6,591 received a fine or a more serious sanction.
The average fine imposed by the court was £165. Education welfare officers report that, within certain groups of parents, the word has spread that prosecution for bad attendance is a muddled process in which there is a good chance of getting off without sanction.
Fines for school absence were introduced in 2004 and the levels of the fines have not been revised since then. In comparison to other offences, the fines for school absence are seen as relatively low.
Mr Taylor's plan is for head teachers to impose a fine of £60 (a £10 increase) on parents they consider are allowing their child to miss too much school without a valid reason.
If they fail to pay within 28 days, then the fine would doubled to £120 (a £20 increase) - and the money would be recovered automatically from their child benefit.
Parents who do not receive child benefit and fail to pay fines would have the money recovered through county courts.
Mr Taylor is also expected to recommend that the Government should toughen up rules around term-time holidays.
The latest figures show that these remain a major reason for absence and in 2010/11 increased to 9.5% of overall absence, from 9.3% the previous year.
If children are taken away for a two-week holiday every year and have an average number of days off for sickness and appointments, then by the time they leave at 16 they will have missed an entire year of their schooling.
Mr Taylor will say that head teachers should continue to use discretion and that the relevant regulations should be strengthened to make clear that schools should only give permission for where there are exceptional circumstances.
He also called for a crackdown on primary school absence to make sure it is not a problem later on in life.
Evidence shows that if parents allow their children to miss lots of time in primary school, they are more likely to play truant as teenagers.
Much of the work these children miss when they are off school is never made up, leaving them at a considerable disadvantage for the remainder of their school career.
Mr Taylor will call on all primary schools to analyse their data on attendance and quickly pick up on children who are developing a pattern of absence.