Which Norfolk schools have the highest and lowest unauthorised absence rates?
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press, Archant
Soaring numbers of fines are being issued to parents in Norfolk for term time holidays, after uncertainty around a landmark court case initially saw them plummet last year.
New Department for Education (DfE) figures show that, in 2016/17, 1,300 fines were handed to parents - 92pc of which were for taking their children on unauthorised family holidays - significantly fewer than the 2,584 given in 2015/16.
The drop came as Isle of Wight father Jon Platt won his fight against his fine in a case at the High Court, which saw councils around the country, including Norfolk County Council, relax their stances.
But after he lost on appeal at the Supreme Court last April, the council reverted back to its previous, stricter, position - and said they had already received 2,667 referrals for fines from schools so far this year as a result. A spokesman said the council's view was that 'every day in school counts'.
'We advise schools to follow the national guidance on when an FPN should be issued,' they said. 'However, the decision on whether to issue a fine lies with each individual school and we pursue cases on their behalf – it is not a decision made by the council.'
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The number of total school sessions missed because of unauthorised absence in Norfolk rose by 0.1pc in 2016/17 - up to 1.3pc - and the number of persistently absent children, those missing at least 10pc of their sessions, rose by 9pc to 11,537.
Term time absence is divisive - many say children benefit from holidays, while parents are charged thousands of pounds extra for school holiday getaways. Opponents, though, say every day at school is key.
One headteacher in west Norfolk said it was, simply, a 'headache'.
'As a base line, children should be in school as much as possible,' they said. 'It does make a difference and I've always taken quite a firm approach because I think there is a slippery slope.
'Having said that, there have been times where I haven't felt a fine is necessary, and it is difficult. There has been pressure as things have changed over the last few years.'
Last summer, Paul Stanley, headteacher at Taverham Junior School, described the system as a 'mess', after unsuccessfully trying to revoke a FPN referral.
Today, the council's guidelines advise schools to refer parents for a fixed penalty notice (FPN) on the 10th missed school session. With two sessions each day, it means a referral could be issued on the afternoon on the fifth day.
But it seems last year's uncertainty did not affect Suffolk, where the number of fines rose by 1pc to 6,074.
It means that 13 notices were issued for every 1,000 pupils in Norfolk, compared to 22 in England and 69 in Suffolk.
And in Nelson's county, when parents failed to pay during the 28-day period, 202 cases were taken to court, while, across the border in Suffolk, 732 were.
Suffolk County Council said schools were required to set their own criteria on the number of school sessions that could be missed before a referral.
The DfE figures also show that Norwich secondary schools saw the highest rates of unauthorised absence last year.
Sewell Park Academy saw 4.2pc of its total school sessions missed for unauthorised absence, followed by Hewett Academy, on 4.1pc, and City Academy Norwich, on 4pc.
When taking into account authorised absence too, 9.2pc of school sessions were missed at Sedgeford Primary School and 9pc were missed at CAN.
Valerie Moore, chief executive of the Right for Success trust, which runs Sewell Park, said: 'We don't authorise holiday absences in particular. There are many safeguarding issues around pupil absence from school and therefore we keep stringent records regarding this.
'We follow the local authority's guidance with regard to attendance and we are fastidious in our follow up regarding any action required.'
She said the school had only excluded one pupil in the last year.
Local authority schools are legally required to be open for at least 380 school sessions - 190 days.
Academies are free to set their own requirements.