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Fining parents ‘has no effect on school absence in Wales’

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Fining parents for taking children out of school in term time in Wales has had no effect on overall absence rates, a recent review has found.

It shows the number of unauthorised family holidays actually increased after fixed penalty notices were introduced in 2013. The review recommends changing the current system.

The Welsh Government, which commissioned the report, said it would consider the proposals put forward.

To add weight to the arguement, research carried out by the Family Holiday Association in 2016 indicated that for the families we help, a family break can actually help improve school attendance. Where attendance was an issue at the time of application, the referrers who took part in the survey saw improvement in a staggering 80% of cases.

In Wales ministers have advised head teachers to use discretion to allow parents to take their children out of school for holidays, with fixed penalty notices being issued by councils to those who do so without permission from the school. But there are wide variations in policy of imposing fines in different council areas.

Meanwhile in England head teachers can allow term-time breaks in “exceptional circumstances” with parents facing the threat of being taken to court if they break the rules.

In Scotland fines are not issued but education authorities can issue “attendance orders” to make a parent explain a pupil’s absence – if no reasonable excuse is given they can be taken to court.

In Northern Ireland no fines are issued, with children’s attendance being monitored instead.

The report – which surveyed teachers and staff of local authorities and local education consortiums – found the biggest decline in overall absence was in the two years before the Welsh Government brought in the fines.

Sand dunesSeveral respondents said that the level of the fine was too low to encourage behaviour change.

They said this was particularly the case for unauthorised absences for holidays in term time because some parents preferred to pay a £60 fine compared to the price of going away in the school holidays.

One respondent said “in this deprived area many families cannot afford the costs of a holiday out of term time. If they can, they soak up the cost of the fine as part of the holiday cost (which means the fine has zero effect)”.

Interviewees also shared stories of travel agents paying fines as part of a holiday deal or of a social worker paying fines for families that they support to ensure the family’s wellbeing is not adversely affected. Some also speculated that parents did not pay fines because they did not believe the local authority would proceed to prosecution.

The report suggests strengthening the guidance or establishing a single national policy for Wales – where all local authorities would be told to have the same rules about when a fine should be given, rather than abolishing them.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We will consider the proposals in the report alongside other evidence gathered as part of our broader review of attendance policy in Wales.”