Council’s school absence fines rocket in county

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A council has issued more than 2,000 fines to parents for their child’s unauthorised absence from school since last September – a six-fold increase on the previous year.

Last year, Nottinghamshire County Council voted to lower the threshold for how long a child could be absent before a fine is issued.

That meant instead of a 25 per cent absence rate - or seven-and-a-half days over six weeks - a parent could be fined if their child missed 10 per cent of lessons, or three days, over the same period.

A report discussed at Monday’s children and young people’s committee meeting said the council has issued 2,200 fines, significantly higher than the 2014-15 figure of 369.

Councillors approved recommendations to maintain their threshold on the back of national coverage on the issue.

In May, Jon Platt won a High Court case against Isle of Wight Council after refusing to pay a £120 fine for taking his daughter on an unauthorised term-time holiday.

Magistrates ruled Mr Platt had no case to answer for, as overall, his daughter attended school regularly.

Isle of Wight Council is currently in the process of challenging the High Court’s decision – but the ruling has caused confusion among local authorities, with Derbyshire County Council announcing last month that fines will only be issued in “extreme cases”.

Nottinghamshire County Council said it is “more prudent” to wait until the legal position is clarified by the upcoming Supreme Court ruling. The authority added a number of schools in the county have yet to implement the lower threshold.

Councillor John Peck, chair of the committee, emphasised the council does not make money from the fines handed out to parents.

This is because the income generated as a result of the threshold change “does not cover the full cost” of three education enforcement officers, employed by the council to administer the fines.

Councillor Philip Owen added: “It’s right we continue with the present policy. I know this topic has generated a lot of heat and emotion. There are differences of opinion but I think it’s right we proceed in this way. I have felt that the autumn term is far too long and would benefit from an extra week’s half-term and this is something we should consult on more intensely than we have done.”

Mr Peck agreed, and criticised the government for “devolving responsibility” on the issue.

“My view is a week less in the summer and one extra in the autumn would bring a better balance,” he said.

“It’s a great shame that the government have talked tough on this but continued to devolve the responsibility back down to local authorities and then individual schools.”