Fines ‘unlikely to stop parents keeping kids off school’ – but number of penalties plummets

The number of fines issued to parents in the Black Country and Staffordshire has dropped significantly
The number of fines issued to parents in the Black Country and Staffordshire has dropped significantly

Almost 3,000 fines have been issued to parents in the Black Country and Staffordshire after their children missed school last year.

Data from the Department for Education showed 2,726 penalties were issued by councils across the region for a child’s poor attendance for 2020/2021. And the figures show the majority of fines were issued for unauthorised family holidays, a total of 2,003. Overall the number of fines has fallen dramatically from pre-pandemic levels, in 2018/2019, when 17,815 fines were issued. No data is available for 2019/2020 due to the pandemic.

The figure comes despite the measures not applying for two months over the past year due to Covid-19 when schools were not open to all students. It also comes as pupils are preparing to face stricter measures to curb virus rates with pupils required to wear face coverings in secondary schools – as well as test themselves regularly.

James Bowen, director of policy for the National Association of Headteachers, described fines as a “blunt instrument”.

He said: “Fines have always been a blunt instrument when it comes to managing persistent absenteeism, and even more so if the reasons are related to the pandemic.

“The reality is that if a parent is concerned enough about their child’s safety to keep them off school, the threat of a fine is unlikely to change their minds.”

In Wolverhampton, 201 fines were issued and were all for unauthorised family holidays and in Sandwell, 44 fines were issued with 40 being for the same reason. Walsall saw 813 fines issued with 362 for unauthorised family holidays and in Dudley, it was 648 fines with 491 for the same reason.

Meanwhile, in Staffordshire, 1,020 fines were issued with 909 being for unauthorised family holidays. It marked one of the highest areas for fines being issued across England. Penalty notices are £60 if paid within 21 days of being issued but rise to £120 if paid between 22 and 28 days later. If the penalty is still outstanding, the council must either prosecute for the original offence or withdraw the notice.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It’s important that all children are in school during term time, particularly as most will have missed out on extended periods of face-to-face education.

“Headteachers have discretion over whether to classify an absence as authorised or unauthorised, and local authorities over whether to issue penalty notices.

“All involved will be mindful of the difficult circumstances of the last two years when making those decisions.”

Express & Star Walsall