Tighter rules on school absences could see more Norfolk parents fined or taken to court

Mick Castle, cabinet member for schools. Picture: James Bass

Mick Castle, cabinet member for schools. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

A tightening of council rules over unauthorised school absences could lead to a short-term rise in the number of parents fined or taken to court.

Starting this week, schools will refer students to the council's attendance improvement officer if they have an attendance rate of 85pc or worse. The threshold was previously 80pc.

The government moved from the 80pc figure to 85pc two years ago, but Norfolk County Council decided to wait before introducing the change locally.

The attendance improvement officer can issue parents with a £60 fixed penalty notice, which, if not paid, is followed by an additional £60 invoice. If that is also not paid, the parents are summoned to magistrates' court for the original persistent absenteeism.

In 2012-13, 98 penalty notices were issued, of which 24 went to court, compared to 103 notices issued in 2011-12, of which 15 went to court.

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The council said it did not yet know the impact of the change, but it said there could be an initial flurry of referrals.

Cabinet member for schools Mick Castle said: 'We are conscious of the fact that the absentee rate is a factor in evaluating the success of Norfolk in terms of schools. Having a purge of that may not just put pressure on getting attendance up, but also help us with Ofsted.

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'It's a more robust approach. We are also keen that we turn things around. It's a small change but I think it's worth going for.'

Although Norfolk's absence rate has been coming down over the last three years for which figures are available, it has remained above the national and regional average.

In 2011-12, the county's average was 6.6pc for secondary schools, compared to a national average of 5.9pc, and 4.6pc for primary schools, compared to a national average of 4.4pc.

The council has a separate 'fast track' procedure, where a target is set at a meeting with parents at school, who can face court it is not met. 1,300 cases entered the fast track procedure in 2012-13.

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