Tougher fines helping to reduce school truancy

Children at work in the classroom.

Children at work in the classroom. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press, Archant

Parents have today been warned truancy from school will no longer be accepted as figures reveal a fall in absences after tougher punishments for parents were introduced.

An increase in £60 fines given to parents of children who are regularly absent is believed to have had an impact on the absence figures.

The number of fines in 2014/15 was almost seven times more than the previous year. Figures from the Department for Education have revealed both Norfolk and Suffolk have seen the rate of persistent absences in all state-funded schools fall by 2.3pc from school years 2011/12 to 2014/15.

This was a fall of 2,065 pupils in Norfolk and 1,940 pupils in Suffolk.

Norfolk's persistent absence rate of 3.7pc for the last school year was the same as across England but was higher than the Suffolk and regional average of 3.4pc.

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Brian Conway, headteacher of Notre Dame High School in Norwich, said school absences were no longer seen as acceptable in the county.

He said: 'I think fines have contributed to the decrease in absence numbers but schools are working closer with parents and encouraging them to get their children into school. Clearly we have some cases where we have to go down the legal route but that is a last resort.

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'Across Norfolk schools have been more proactive earlier – if a pupil has a day or two absent the school is ringing and questioning the parents earlier. We have some children that don't like to go to school but we have to integrate them and get them participating.

'There used to be an assumption of absence as being the norm. But now it is not accepted in Norfolk.'

The number of overall absences – which takes into account both authorised and unauthorised absences including illness and family holidays – over the last school year in Norfolk was 4.8pc compared with 4.6pc in Suffolk and across the country. But since the 2011/12 school year the rate has declined by 0.8pc in Norfolk. Suffolk has seen a similar decline of 0.9pc.

The Department for Education has said the number of children absent for family holidays across all schools in England has decreased by 1pc.

In 2014/15, Norfolk County Council issued 2,747 fines for unauthorised absences and Suffolk County Council 2,736. Norfolk County Council said it had clear legal sanctions to use when schools referred a case to it, including fixed penalty notices and supporting schools in interactions with parents of students whose absence record was a cause for concern.

If these measures do not bring about improvements, the case can be taken to court.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: 'We're delighted that these measures are clearly working; in particular our work with schools to support intervention earlier which has shown an improvement with persistent absentees.

'The law is very clear that ensuring attendance at school is a duty which rests upon parents/carers and that supporting this duty rests with locally managed schools. Schools regularly report attendance information to parents and need to ensure they are challenging parents and carers when the attendance data falls short. They provide support and challenge families when a pupil has an unsatisfactory attendance record.

'We are striving to improve attendance rates and everyone involved in supporting a student's education needs to persist in attempts to maximise learning time in school.

'We're pleased to see a continued narrowing of the gap between rates of absence nationally and in Norfolk.'

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