How much school absence fines have changed in your area as numbers soar

The number of parents fined over their children's absence from school nearly trebled in just 12 months in some parts of the UK, shock new figures show.

More than 15,000 mums and dads were dragged to court in the last school year, with local authorities collecting at least £15million in fines.

But critics warn this can be "catastrophic" for families, and said parents are being excessively punished – especially in cases where there are underlying issues such as bullying or mental health problems.

The new figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act by dozens of local authorities, show huge increases in the number of fines issued in the 2018/19 school year.

A year earlier, a record breaking 260,000 penalty notices were issued – 110,000 more than in 2016/17.

Figures obtained by The Knowledge Academy and shared with Mirror Online show that over 90% of councils issued even more fines in the latest full school year.

To find out how many fines were issued in your area, use our exclusive tool below.

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Some key findings from the new data includes:

  • 210,274 fixed penalty notices were issued in 2018/19 by councils which responded to the request for data – compared to 174,566 a year earlier
  • Gloucestershire had the highest increase – with schools dishing out 1,632 penalty notices, nearly treble the 575 issued a year earlier
  • In Cornwall the number of fines soared by 186% – from 387 to 1,107 in 2018/19
  • Across London more than 28,000 £60 notices were issued, with Hackney seeing a 169% increase
  • 765 parents were taken to court in Hampshire – up from 664 a year earlier, the most cases anywhere in the UK
  • Staffordshire raked in £317,820 from fines – a 107.7% increase from £153,000 12 months earlier
  • Norfolk saw a 63.8% increase in notices issued – from 4,257 in 2017/18 to 6,974 in 2018/19
  • One of the few authorities which saw a decrease in income from fines was Hertfordshire , which dropped from £100,670 to £62,580
  • Waltham Forest in London netted £57,010 from fines in 2018/19, a 152.7% increase
  • The number of fines issued by Harrow Council more than doubled from 532 to 1,074
  • In Stoke-on-Trent there was an increase of 142.7% in the number of fines issued, from 396 to 961
  • Stoke-on-Trent collected £36,105.65 – a 220.7% increase in just 12 months
  • Torbay Council issued fewer fines in 2018/19 – giving out 780 compared to 1,079 a year earlier

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Not everywhere in the UK responded, with Manchester and Birmingham among the cities whose data is not included in the figures.

Schools and councils can issue fines of £60, which doubles if not paid in 21 days.

Failure to pay within 28 days can see you taken to court, where parents can face fines of up to £2,500 or a three month prison sentence.

One parent who has been fined and later went to court is Colette Reid, from Lancashire, who told Mirror Online: "It's absolutely horrendous, I've been fined once and taken to court.

"It's ridiculous."

Colette, whose 14-year-old son has been diagnosed with ADHD and autism, described her experience as a "nightmare".

"The first time I didn't have the energy to take it to court so I paid the fine, but the second time I decided to fight it," she said.

Colette said she was found guilty of failing to send her child to school, but not made to pay a fine or costs because of her family circumstances.

She believes others are in the same circumstance.

Fran Morgan, from Square Peg, which supports children with underlying reasons for not attending school, told Mirror Online that the consequences of enforcement can be "catastrophic" for families.

She said: "We know that the underlying causes are varied – undiagnosed/unsupported SEND, bullying, trauma and other mental health problems.

"It’s down to an individual school leader to decide whether an absence is genuine or not."

She said that Department for Education guidance is not bound by law, but schools should authorise absence 'unless they have genuine cause for concern about the veracity of an illness'.

Fran stated: "We know that local authorities are instructing schools otherwise, for example by insisting on a consultant letter to authorise absence, or a GP letter stating the words ‘unfit for school'."

And pursuing legal action can have horrific repercussions, she said.

"The consequences on families can be catastrophic," Fran told Mirror Online.

"From a parent having to give up work, to fines & prosecutions, social services investigating for safeguarding reasons as low attendance is a red flag on safeguarding policies.

"Often their child will receive no education despite the local authority having a duty to provide some form of alternative education after 15 days of absence.

"There’s also the well-documented issue of off rolling, and the surge in 'non-elective’ home education with many parents feeling they have no choice but to deregister their child." 

Local authorities contacted by Mirror Online said the decision to issue fines is usually made by individual schools.

A spokesman from Cornwall Council said: "The local authority issues penalty notices on behalf of headteachers and it is a headteacher’s individual decision as to whether to authorise term-time leave. The law allows them to do so if they deem it to be in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

"There is no given definition on what these ‘exceptional circumstances’ are.

“We advise schools that if they wish to issue penalty notices as a method to help improve attendance rates, they must be consistent in the way they do so.

"However, each request must be considered individually to decide if there are exceptional circumstances under which the absence may be permitted.

"The 1996 Education Act makes it very clear that parents must ensure that their child of school age receives regular, full-time education. For most parents this is in school. Children must attend the school they are registered in. Only the school can authorise a child’s absence."

The Department for Education says the most common reasons fines are issued is for unauthorised family holidays.

A report into the number of fines issued in 2017/18 said: "85.4 per cent of all penalty notices were issued for unauthorised family holiday absence in 2017/18, up from 77.5 per cent in 2016/17. 0.2 per cent were issued for arriving late and 14.3 per cent were issued for other unauthorised absence.

"The unauthorised absence rate in state-funded primary, state-funded secondary and special schools was 1.4 per cent in 2017/18, an increase from 1.3 per cent in 2016/17 – the rate of unauthorised holiday absence remained steady at 0.4 per cent."

In November last year, a 58-year-old mum was jailed for two months for failing to send her child to school.

At a hearing at Birmingham Crown Court, Judge Mark Wall QC said the boy "has been away more in recent times than he has been at school".

And he told the mum, who cannot be named for legal reasons: "You have jeopardised his future by not making the efforts you ought to have done in getting him to school.

"I do not feel it would be unjust to impose a suspended sentence. To not do so would be a sign of impotence."

But Birmingham Live reports that Simon Birch, defending the mum, said she was powerless to force the teenager to go to school.

He said: "She has done everything she can but her son refuses point blank to go or stay at school.

"She has done everything she can but her son refuses point blank to go or stay at school."

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