More fines for parents who take kids out of school

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Parents of pupils taking unauthorised absences from school could be hit with more fines from next year in a Leeds-wide crackdown on truancy.

Education chiefs are considering proposals to shake-up the school rules and increase the number of penalty notices which can be issued to parents during a school year.

Penalty notices are given when a pupil misses more than 10 sessions (five days) over 12 weeks, with fines of £60 per parent per child if paid within 21 days - doubling to £120 within 28 days.

The authority can hand out only one penalty notice to each parent each year, even if a pupil repeatedly misses school.

But this could increase to two every year under the new plans. Leeds City Council’s scrutiny board for children and families will this week discuss the proposals, which went out to consultation with schools from Monday.

A report to the board said: “The council is seeking views on the proposal to bring its code of conduct in line with our neighbouring local authorities who all - with the exception of York - allow for two or more penalty notices to be issued per pupil per academic year.”

More powers to issue fines were introduced in September 2013, when new legislation stated schools were no longer allowed to authorise requests for children to be taken out of school for a holiday during term time.

Since that date, council bosses in Leeds have gone from issuing just over 100 fines a year to close to 100 fines every week last year.

The council said the new government rules have led to Leeds recording its highest ever attendance figures in 2013/14.

But figures quoted in the scrutiny board report show unauthorised absences remain a problem.

Among primary school pupils last year, 23 per cent of absences were unauthorised - including eight per cent where children had been taken on family holidays without prior permission.

The figure was higher for secondary schools, where 33 per cent of absences were unauthorised and pupils’ average attendance rate of 94.6 per cent ranked the city as 117th out of England’s 152 authorities.

Council chiefs said increasing the number of penalty notices would reduce the need to pursue costly prosecutions in court for persistent absentees, the only course of action currently available to those already issued with a penalty notice.

Coun Lucinda Yeadon, executive member for children and families, said: “Regular attendance at school is vital in helping children and young people to achieve their full potential and get the best possible start in life.

“We have already made very good progress in Leeds with attendance in schools improving. We are seeking views on our code of conduct regarding the issuing of penalty notices for irregular school attendance.

“This would bring our code of conduct in line with our neighbouring authorities. It should be noted that this is a consultation only and the proposed change would affect only a small minority of people, as the vast majority of parents agree that the best place for their children to be during term time is in school.”

If approved, the new rules would come into force from January 1 2016.