Is it discriminatory to issue penalty notices for term time absence to both parents?

(72 Posts)
minisale Fri 05-Jul-13 13:28:21

Our LEA has a policy of issuing a fine to each parent for each child if you take them out of school for 5 consecutive days. So a two parent family will receive four penalty notices of £50 each while a single parent family will receive just two for the same act. The impact of taking the two children out of school is exactly the same. Is this discriminating against two parent families and therefore is it illegal for the County Council to implement this policy? Ideas, knowledge, experiences and views gratefully received.

TobyLerone Fri 05-Jul-13 13:34:46

I can't see how it's discriminatory confused

In both cases, each parent effectively gets two fines.

I would be incredibly pissed off, however, if my DCs' father decided to take them on holiday during term time and I got a fine for it. Not that that would happen, because I obviously wouldn't agree to it, but theoretically it could.

prh47bridge Fri 05-Jul-13 15:33:19

The law says they can do this. It is not illegal.

timidviper Fri 05-Jul-13 15:38:36

I think it may not be illegal but it is unfair.

School trips and other expenses are charged per child, imagine the outcry if children in a 2 parent family were charged double for a school trip. What about children who split their time between 2 parents who are both in new relationships do they get 4 fines? What a nonsensical policy!

The impact of the absence is the same regardless of the number of parents living at the home so I think the fine should be per child.

flowery Fri 05-Jul-13 16:34:26

Why wouldn't they fine both parents just because they aren't in a relationship?

prh47bridge Fri 05-Jul-13 17:59:00

timidviper - No there would not be 4 fines. Only parents can be fined.

The parent is committing the offence of failing to secure their child's attendance at the school. Both parents are guilty of that offence if the child is not attending. Why shouldn't they both be fined?

tiggytape Fri 05-Jul-13 18:52:11

The fine goes to the person (or people) with parental responsibility for the child who therefore have a legal responsibility to make sure their children attend school.

If a 2 parent family has 2 children each parent is legally responsible for 2 children so would get 2 lots of fines if those children missed school.

New partners and people without parental responsibility don't get fined because it isn't their job to make sure the children don't miss school.

TobyLerone Fri 05-Jul-13 19:01:34

It would make more sense if the fine were, say, £50, and they split it between everyone with PR. So if 1 person has PR, they pay £50. If 2 people have PR (either living together or apart), they pay £25 each.

Otherwise it just looks like a ridiculous money-spinning exercise...

Oh, wait.

flowery Fri 05-Jul-13 19:13:05

OP do you actually know they don't fine both parents if they don't happen to live together, or are you assuming?

tiggytape Fri 05-Jul-13 19:18:16

But it is an offence not to ensure your child attends school - that's the offence that you are fined for. Just because you are in a couple doesn't make you only half as responsible for your child as if you were a single parent.

Each person with parental responsibility for a child is committing an offence if they don't ensure they go to school.
Just like if 2 people went shop lifting together and got caught, they wouldn't get one fine to share between them, they'd get one each.

I work at the CAB and had a couple with three kids who had been taken abroad for five weeks - each been fined £60 each child, per parent. This wasn't paid and the fine was raised to £120 per child, per parent shock none negotiable and next step was Magistrares court.

I'm glad they don't get sent to the mum by default.

prh47bridge Sat 06-Jul-13 20:05:07

That is the same everywhere in England. The government sets the rules. From September the fine goes up from £60 to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days (currently you have 28 days to pay at the lower rate). If it remains unpaid after 28 days (42 days at the moment) the LA may prosecute.

I disagree with TobyLerone. As Tiggytape says, if you go shoplifting with your partner you will both be fined. You won't get one fine to split between you even though you would only have had to pay for the goods once. That isn't a ridiculous money-spinning exercise. You are still fully responsible for your actions (or lack of action) even if there is someone else involved.

If the child has an unauthorised absence both parents have committed an offence. I really can't see any reason why they shouldn't both be fined the full amount.

OddBoots Sat 06-Jul-13 20:10:37

I think the concept of it being a fine for breaking the law is being lost in the phrasing of some discussions where it is discussed as being part of a holiday cost. It isn't a 'time off school' ticket that can be bought.

xylem8 Sun 07-Jul-13 10:32:41

My youngest goes to a tiny rural primary miles from anywhere who are always wanting more pupils.I am planning to deregister them before we go and then re-register when we come back.

Which minority group would it be discriminating against? two parent families? hmm

It's fining everyone who has PR for the child, rather than just focussing on the "feckless mother". Good!

EliotNess Sun 07-Jul-13 10:37:29

no - in fact IME most go to parents who are split up.

ShipwreckedAndComatose Sun 07-Jul-13 10:47:15

Xylem, you can only due register if you state which school they will be moving my understanding. Unless you say you will be home educating.

Strikes me as a ridiculous thing to contemplate just to go on a holiday you could take at a different time.

What if the school does not accept your child back?

prh47bridge Sun 07-Jul-13 13:51:57

The school will have to accept xylem's child back if they have a space. However, if the school issues a penalty notice in these circumstances I would expect the LA and the courts to uphold it.

OldLadyKnowsNothing Sun 07-Jul-13 13:59:59

Do NRPs get fined? How do they deal with totally absent parents, who never see their dc/pay maintenance, even though they have PR?

CloudsAndTrees Sun 07-Jul-13 15:37:30

No, it's not discriminatory. It's making both parents responsible for their children, which is a good thing.

If both parents have chosen to do something that could result in a fine,mother both of them should be fined!

MirandaWest Sun 07-Jul-13 15:55:45

I won't be taking the DC out of school and neither will XH but would both of us be fined if the other one did? We both have PR but I don't really see how one of us could prevent the other one if we were really determined to.

EliotNess Sun 07-Jul-13 16:01:06

Old lady. Dunno.

xylem8 Sun 07-Jul-13 16:04:32

prhbridge surely they cannot issue a notice to a child not even registered at tge school.

tiggytape Sun 07-Jul-13 16:20:28

You may dodge the fines issue by deregistering with the intention of re-registering later but you may also open up a whole new can of worms instead. There is a focus now on keeping an eye out for children suddenly disappearing from the state system. This is due to child protection issues. Unfortunately vulnerable children have fallen through the cracks in the past because their parents deregister them from school to remove them from the care (and scrutiny) of teachers and professionals. So if you do this suddenly, it may start alarm bells ringing.

Once satisfied that it is nothing dodgy, they will want to be satisfied instead that you are upholding your legal obligation to provide your child with an education after removal from school. Of course Home Ed doesn't have the same timetable restrictions as school but to removing a child from the education system entirely just for a holiday is such an OTT reaction that they may decide they need to look into what on earth is going on.

xylem8 Sun 07-Jul-13 18:13:21

It will only be 2 weeks! My DD was home educted for 6 months in the past and didn't hear a peep from the LEA.

tiggytape Sun 07-Jul-13 18:41:54

I think the de-registering and then re-registering so soon afterwards might be the thing. It isn’t an informal thing you can do since it goes via the council not just the school. It depends on your council though and whether they flag concerns about children in the area being removed from state education.
You can legitimately Home Ed for 6 months and many people do. They may question however whether you can legitimately Home Ed for just 2 weeks especially when this sudden change of heart in educational approach happens to coincide with a 2 week trip to a sunnier location. Even if you find you can can pop in and out for as long as the school is short on numbers, it just seems a very OTT action to take to avoid a potential fine.

Needtostopbuyingcrap Sun 07-Jul-13 18:50:12

My friend happens to be a Welsh traveller and she told me these changes don't apply to her. Why?
Why aren't we all treated the same?

EliotNess Sun 07-Jul-13 19:22:11

Respecting their culture. ?
Or setting them up to fail. Some councils have special traveller education units

Needtostopbuyingcrap Sun 07-Jul-13 19:26:15

Shouldn't it be one rule for all? I can see a lot of noses being put out by this.

EliotNess Sun 07-Jul-13 19:47:55

Only yours ! I think prejudice against minority groups has a habit of ending badly.

Needtostopbuyingcrap Sun 07-Jul-13 20:01:05

My nose wouldn't be put out, it doesn't bother me.
Nobody should have special treatment at all. That's all i am saying.

One rule for all, so it's fair for all.
My mate is a traveller but she has never been on the road, she spent all of her life in a house. It makes no sense at all.

prh47bridge Sun 07-Jul-13 21:23:27

OldLadyKnowsNothing - The relevant legislation allows the NRP to be fined. However it would be hard to make a penalty notice stick if the NRP has no involvement with the child.

xylem8 - De-registering for two weeks for a holiday is rather different to home educating for 6 months. If the school decided to issue a penalty notice when you re-registered I suspect the LA and the courts would view your proposed course of action as a transparent attempt to get round the law. The school would therefore be allowed to act as if your child had remained registered at the school throughout.

Needtostopbuyingcrap - The changes apply in England so they don't apply to her if she is in Wales. If she is in England she is mistaken, although this appears to be a common belief amongst travellers. The only special provision for travellers is that a child who has no fixed abode because the parents trade or business requires them to travel from place to place can be registered at more than one school. It is therefore harder to track unauthorised absence for such pupils but not impossible. If all the schools involved agree that an absence is unauthorised a penalty notice can be issued. If your Welsh traveller friend does not actually travel she is subject to the same regulations as everyone else.

ShipwreckedAndComatose Sun 07-Jul-13 21:56:20

Such a cynical thing to try to do! Just pick a time to go on holiday that isn't in term time!

xylem8 Sun 07-Jul-13 22:33:50

PRH47bridge- do you actually know anything about how the law works?

tiggytape Sun 07-Jul-13 22:58:34

prh47 is an MN schools and admissions expert if that's what you mean xylem8?

Tanith Sun 07-Jul-13 23:35:26

"Each person with parental responsibility for a child is committing an offence if they don't ensure they go to school."

It's my understanding that the legal requirement is to ensure your child is receiving an education, not that he or she attends school.

prh47bridge Mon 08-Jul-13 00:34:33

Tanith - Whilst it is a legal requirement to ensure your child is receiving an education that is by no means the only legal requirement. Under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 the parent is guilty of an offence if a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly. That is the offence for which a penalty notice is issued.

xylem8 - Yes I know quite a lot about how the law works. If the courts allowed you to get away with your proposed course of action it would mean parents could take their children out of school for as many holidays of whatever length they wanted by de-registering their child for the duration. That would defeat the purpose of the legislation. I therefore believe it is very likely the courts would take the view that de-registering a child to take a holiday and then immediately re-registering is not a genuine de-registration and should be ignored for the purposes of Section 444. The legal backing for this would be supplied by the fact that in order to de-register your child without sending them to another school you have to provide written notification that your child is receiving education otherwise than at school (Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006). If you gave such notification it would clearly be false as your intention is to take a holiday, not educate your child, so your child should not have been de-registered. If you did not give such notification the school should not de-register your child.

Tanith Mon 08-Jul-13 06:33:04

Prh47bridge: thank you for clarifying.

OldLadyKnowsNothing Mon 08-Jul-13 16:19:30

And thanks from me too. flowers

ukjess Sat 20-Jul-13 14:05:16

why not simply holiday in the allowed dates?

like everyone else?

cloudskitchen Mon 22-Jul-13 23:21:24

That is ridiculous. The fine should be per child not per parent!

prh47bridge Tue 23-Jul-13 00:15:59


Both parents are responsible for ensuring their child attends school. Both parents commit an offence if the child fails to attend regularly. You wouldn't expect the fine to be split between you if you both went shoplifting. Why should it be split between you if you both fail to ensure that your child attends school?

But what if it genuinely IS 2 weeks of education?

Then what?

cloudskitchen Tue 23-Jul-13 17:54:00

I just believe it is. it might be 2 parents but its one family. you cant dissect a family as and when it suits you. if 2 people share a joint bank account and it goes overdrawn they will not get charged seperate overdraft fees. They will be charged once for each misdemeanour. there are many other examples. someone has just spotted an opportunity to squeeze more money out of families and whats more they can make themselves beyond reproach by taking the higher moral ground. my kids school dont fine and I have never taken them out for holidays anyway however I do get cheesed off with people milking every penny out of a situation just because they can!

prh47bridge Tue 23-Jul-13 18:16:54

StarlightMcKenzie - It is up to the head teacher whether or not to authorise the absence. If the head agrees it is two weeks of education they may be willing to authorise it, in which case no-one will be fined.

cloudskitchen - Going overdrawn with your bank is not an offence. The situation is governed by your contract with the bank. Unlike failing to ensure your child's attendance at school you cannot be imprisoned for it. A more accurate analogy would be a couple going shoplifting together (or insert any other minor offence of your choice). They won't get one fine to split between them. They will each get a separate fine. Nothing to do with squeezing more money out of families. Just the way the law works. And to be blunt, if the government want to squeeze more money out of families this would not be a very efficient way of doing so. After all, families can avoid paying anything by simply ensuring their child does not take unauthorised absences.

cloudskitchen Tue 23-Jul-13 18:23:16

I disagree with you and your analogy. Its completely ott. We are talking about kids missing a bit of school on rare occasions to spend time with their families doing fun stuff. nothing more melodramatic than that. not stealing as you suggest, and please dont come back and say their education is being stolen and etc... I'm sure there are many parents that would laugh and being compared with shoplifters. It made me smile both times grin

gintastic Tue 23-Jul-13 18:30:21

Surely deregistering and re registering would only work if the school wasn't full? If I tried this at DD's school the place would be taken up quicker than I could blink and she'd have no place to come back to.

Does anyone have any idea what constitutes exceptional circumstances? DD has had 2 authorised days off this year, one for a funeral and one to see relatives visiting from abroad (she hasn't seen them for a year and won't see them again for another year if we hasn't seen them on that day). Would these count? What about weddings?

cloudskitchen Tue 23-Jul-13 18:42:48

gintastic our school would be the same plus what a hassle...

If you're school authorised those absences they obviously felt they were good enough reasons. I can't imagine any school not authorising for a funeral.

yes, My children would lose their place, but they'd go on the top of the waiting list and it is a big school so more likely to get a leaver. In the mean time I'd just do more fun stuff with the kids while I wait.

I suppose I don't like the system because where a parent and a HT can disagree what is in the best interest of a child holistically, or even simply educationally, the HT 'wins'.

This issues is an absolute nightmare when it comes to SN as most teachers are woefully undertrained in this respect, yet few would admit this.

prh47bridge Tue 23-Jul-13 20:09:07

cloudskitchen - You may not like it but, in terms of current sentencing guidelines, persistently failing to get your child to attend school regularly is regarded as broadly equivalent to shoplifting. A first offence of shoplifting will usually attract a fine of £50-£80, similar to the £60 for non-attendance. And the penalties for repeated offences are also similar. If you don't like that take it up with your MP. But as I said you can replace shoplifting with any minor offence of your choice. The principle is the same. If you and your partner both commit an offence you will both be fined.

gintastic - It is up to the head teacher to decide what qualifies as exceptional circumstances. There are no rules.

For what it is worth (and this is a general comment, not aimed at anyone in particular) all the major political parties are in agreement on the penalties for non-attendance. Policy is driven by research that shows children who are taken out of school for an unauthorised holiday of a week or more often never catch up on the work they have missed whatever their parents believe. A child missing 17 days of school in a year can lead to achieving a grade lower at GCSE, so a C becomes a D.

I've seen that research. It is at whole population level and includes and relies heavily on the CBA parents.

Research also shows that children in deprived areas fall behind during the summer holidays but children in more affluent areas make advances.

My ds made NO progress at school. We took him out of ONE TERM and he made a years gain, and he has SN.

And it could be argued anyway that in some instances the time off school was more than worth an arbitrarily, goal-post constantly moving, awarded GSCE grade.

cloudskitchen Wed 24-Jul-13 00:46:29

we're not talking regularly though are we. we are talking occasional absences.

cloudskitchen Wed 24-Jul-13 00:52:33

starlightmckenzie you have obviously judged your child correctly and made the the right decision for them - good for you. Every child deserves an education but sometimes common sense must prevail. one size does not fit all!

prh47bridge Wed 24-Jul-13 10:21:46

we are talking occasional absences

We are talking about fines. That means we are not talking about occasional absences.

Your LA must have a code of conduct for fines. If a school issues a fine in breach of the code the LA will withdraw it. Whilst I haven't read every LA's code I have seen quite a few. For the ones I have seen you will generally only be fined if you take an unauthorised holiday (i.e. a week or more) or your child is regularly absent. In the latter case you are likely to get a warning first with a fine only being issued if the situation does not improve. I have yet to come across an LA that would support parents being fined for a single absence where the child otherwise has good attendance.

I suppose I don't like the system because where a parent and a HT can disagree what is in the best interest of a child holistically, or even simply educationally, the HT 'wins'.

I understand your point but someone has to decide. Unfortunately some parents are quite happy for their children to miss school regularly and simply spend the day hanging around the local shopping centre or whatever. I don't think such parents should be trusted to decide whether or not their child should be allowed to take days of school. If we can't trust the parents the only other option is to give the decision to the school (unless we want to bring in some outside body). Hence it becomes the head teacher's decision. I'm afraid I don't really see any alternative.

cloudskitchen Wed 24-Jul-13 10:49:01

ah ok. misunderstanding on my part. it seemed reading the thread that people are being fined for occasional absence. as I said, I don't take my kids out of school for holidays however I do not judge those that do as sometimes situations or circumstances arise when it seems the best or only thing to do.

I am bowing out of the conversation at this point as law or no, it's not something we will not totally agree on.

But why should the HT decide? They are not the ones charged by law with responsibility for the upbringing of the child, their needs holistically, their context in their culture, family, educationally. Their decisions can never delivered in the whole context of a child's lifetime, of their opportunities or not, or their self-esteem, relationship, attachment needs.

Some parents are feckless and neglectful. There are bodies who deal with that. Or should HTs also make rules about bedtimes, and issue fines on these too?

This change means significantly reducing the partnership element of education and the role of the parent in this.

DD's school are asking for direct debits every month shock. It would appear most parents pay it.

DH has suggested paying in a lump sum at the end of the year/school career deducting any fines.

prh47bridge Wed 24-Jul-13 12:50:53

But why should the HT decide?

To keep it simple and enforceable.

If it is up to the parents it becomes much harder to hold them to account if attendance is inadequate. All absences become unauthorised as there is no mechanism to authorise them and the courts start having to distinguish between different types of absence. And the process for holding parents to account becomes longer. The school can't simply issue a fixed penalty notice (or take any of the other steps available in the current legislation) for taking too many unauthorised absences so the first port of call would be the courts.

Putting it at the head teacher's discretion gives a simple system. You ask the head and make your case. They decide. If they say no and you take the holiday anyway you may get fined. If you disagree with the head you have the option of home educating, going private (if you can afford it) or going to a school where the head agrees with you (if you can find one). Or you can simply accept that, as with many other things, the school makes the rules and you have to comply.

This change means significantly reducing the partnership element of education and the role of the parent in this.

What change? Nothing has changed. It has been like this for years.

What's been like it for years?

The 'outreach' model of pretend partnership or the absence rules?

If the absence rules, then how comes people are saying they were able to take time off last year but not this?

If the outreach model, then yes I agree. But think this is outdated and detrimental to our children's education and development.

You don't have the option of home educating though do you, unless you are very wealthy, same with going private.

Unfortunately, the way our society is set up, school is as much about childcare as it is about education.

prh47bridge Wed 24-Jul-13 13:57:08

The absence rules. There has been a tweak this year to remove a reference to 10 days holiday as some parents were treating this as a right which was not the intention (nor was it what the rules actually said). In other respects they haven't changed.

Many of those parents who I've come across claiming things have changed believe they previously had the right to take their child out of school for 10 days holiday. They didn't.

It is also true that some schools and LAs are tightening up and authorising fewer holidays but this is a process that has been going on for years. Some schools have used the tweak to the rules as cover for a decision that they will no longer authorise any holiday - a position that I suspect will only hold until a parent takes them to judicial review.

tiggytape Wed 24-Jul-13 14:22:02

The HTs were in a very awkward position under the old wording which mentioned upto 10 days for holidays with exceptional circumstances because everyone (including some Head Teachers) came to view this as the right to 2 weeks off school for a holiday as long as other attendance wasn't too shocking.

This was never the intention. 10 days was supposed to be the absolute maximum not the default expected. And it was expected that HTs would strictly ensure it wasn't granted except with very strong reasons - which put them in a pretty impossible position. In the end, there were schools that granted holiday to anyone who asked which was never supposed to happen.

So now the reference to a holiday has been removed to emphasise the exceptional circumstances element that was always the key thing. And only the HT can decide about that. You can't have a system where some parents (who claim the moral high ground of offering educational trips at times they deem less disruptive) are treated differently to parents who don't have any educational motives and just want the cheapest and hottest 2 weeks in Spain. So no, one system doesn’t ideally suit everyone but a system based on parents deciding which rules apply to their children and when wouldn't work.

I have an example of why this does not work.

A friend of mine with a child with ASD had an private OT appointment weekly. Because she didn't drive it took a whole morning. The HT agreed to this time off (probably pleased to see the child's back for a bit).

Because of the time it took and the progress her child had made, and diminishing of funds, she used the OT in a consultative capacity and went to appointments monthly. She requested an hour and a half a week during school time to carry out the some of the OT exercises in the local playground (programme required suspended equipment i.e. swing) because the playground would be relatively empty instead of full of school kids.

Her request was refused by the HT. There was no right of appeal.

tiggytape Wed 24-Jul-13 17:41:58

Time off for medical appointments is allowed. Most clinics and consultants operate at set times and on weekdays so a child needs to miss that time off school. It is unavoidable - it simply isn't possible to get a consultant to see you at 6pm or on a Sunday.

However completing the exercises a professional gives you (as most parents with children under an O.T are required to do) can be done outside school hours because no professional need attend.
Where very specialist equipment is needed, your friend should ask her GP to refer to a paediatric physiotherapist at the local hospital. The school understandably would find it hard to justify sanctioning time off for periods when the swings in the park are likely to be less in demand especially as it is only needed once a week so could be slotted into weekends instead.

Well what happened was that she won (after tribunal) OT weekly IN school, though still OT monthly. The TA had to deliver it IN school for 3 half hours a week, in the school hall.

The TA wasn't anywhere near competent enough to ensure the child complied, so it was a waste of time.

On top of that she then had to go to busy playgrounds which her child found distressing, during busy times, so he stopped complying there too.

'Where very specialist equipment is needed, your friend should ask her GP to refer to a paediatric physiotherapist at the local hospital.'

I take it you have never tried to get such a referral.

tiggytape Wed 24-Jul-13 18:02:20

My own DD is under an OT and also a specialist paediatric physio at the hospital. She needs similar equipment to your friend's child so I do have some understanding of the issues your friend faces. Apart from official hospital appointments though, she doesn't have extra time off, we have loads of things we have to do with her daily and also at weekends. It is difficult I know, and provision isn't great in every region but I do understand why the school say no to playground visits in school time.

SpringSunshine Mon 29-Jul-13 14:37:27

So why don't parents just call in say their children are sick instead of asking permission and letting everyone know they are going on holiday?

Took a term time holiday myself once the week before the end of term as it was the only possible date to fit around dh's work (and authorised), but if things get difficult would just say they are sick. DS has been off for more than week before when his asthma / hay fever are bad ...

prh47bridge Mon 29-Jul-13 17:08:13

Whether or not you would get away with that depends on how long you take off and how often it happens. If your child is sick for a week at about the same time every year, for example, the school may want proof that your child is genuinely unwell. And of course you need to be sure that your child isn't going to spill the beans accidentally by telling their friends about the wonderful holiday they have just had.

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