Requests from schools to fine parents for taking children on holiday during term time are on the rise in Warwickshire.
The matter was raised during a discussion of the county’s school attendance figures at this week’s meeting of the Children & Young People Overview & Scrutiny Committee.
Official figures for overall absence rates in 2021-22 were released by the Department for Education (DfE) in March and showed that Warwickshire’s had increased to 8.1 per cent, up from 4.7 per cent the previous year and above the national average of 7.6 per cent for 2021-22.
Absence rates for illness doubled year-on-year, while unauthorised absence has doubled between 2018-19 and 2021-22.
Councillor Brian Hammersley pointed out that absence codes showing reasons “rely on honesty and integrity” before raising the issue of holidays.
“I have had parents say they cannot afford to go on holiday when it is holiday time,” he said.
“They say ‘we will fine you’ but again, that is hitting them with a stick afterwards so that is another bone of contention with parents.
“They all know holiday firms put up prices at holiday time. It is very difficult for you and you are relying on people telling you the truth.”
Parents can be issued with a maximum of two £120 fixed penalty notices per child per year for failure to ensure children attend school but the fines are reduced to £60 if paid within 21 days.
Sarah Tregaskis, service manager for education at Warwickshire County Council, said: “Certainly in the current climate, with the cost-of-living crisis, we may see more families wanting to take their children out of school in term time to access cheaper holidays.
“We provide advice and guidance to schools and families about the requirement for children to be in school and the consequences if they do not attend, losing lesson time and information they would gather, falling behind their peers.
“Ultimately, the sanctions are potentially fines to be issued to parents. We work very closely with schools, other partners, agencies and parents and carers to share those messages.
“Colleagues were sharing today that the number of referrals we are receiving for leave of absence, schools saying they haven’t authorised absences but parents have taken the children away from school, we are getting more referrals to fine those parents.
“We are seeing an increase so there is something we need to do to work together with the parents but it is not just a problem in Warwickshire, it is national problem that we don’t have the answer to but that we are working through.”
The 2021-22 data placed Warwickshire 128th out of 152 local authorities for overall absence, plummeting from 91st in 2020-21 and 73rd in 2018-19, plus the county’s persistent absence rate – pupils missing one in 10 school sessions or more – doubled from 11.9 per cent to 23.7, again slightly higher than the national rate (22.5 per cent).
Covid absences, the fallout from the pandemic and “a reported rise in mental health issues, resulting in a growth in emotionally-based school avoidance or anxiety” were cited in a report co-authored by Ms Tregaskis who, during the meeting, noted the time lag on official data.