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School truancy fines and term-time holidays crackdown proposed by London adviser

Monday, April 16, 2012
9:31 AM

Parents could lose money from their child benefit if they fail to pay fines for their children being truant from school.

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Behaviour tsar Charles Taylor, who has worked in some of London’s toughest schools, wants penalties for parents who do not ensure their children attend school to be increased.

The proposal would mean the penalties would have more of a positive effect on ensuring all pupils attend school regularly, says Mr Taylor who was commissioned by education secretary Michael Gove to look at the issue of school attendance in the wake of the riots last year.

Announcing his findings today, he will say: “We know that some parents simply allow their children to miss lessons and then refuse to pay the fine. It means the penalty has no effect, and children continue to lose vital days of education they can never recover.

“Recouping the fines through child benefit, along with other changes to the overall system, will strengthen and simplify the system. It would give headteachers the backing they need in getting parents to play their part.”

At the moment if a headteacher decides to impose a fine for truancy, the parent has 28 days to pay £50. If they fail, then it is doubled.

Mr Taylor wants the initial fine increased to £60, doubling to £120 if it is unpaid after 28 days.

If unpaid, the money would be taken automatically from child benefit rather than schools going through the long-winded process of court action.

Parents who do not receive child benefit and fail to pay fines would have the money recovered through county courts.

Mr Taylor is also expected to recommend the government should toughen up rules around term-time holidays.

The latest figures show that these remain a major reason for absence and in 2010/11 increased to 9.5 per cent of overall absence, from 9.3 per cent the previous year.

If children are taken away for a two-week holiday every year and have an average number of days off for sickness and appointments, then by the time they leave at 16 they will have missed an entire year of their schooling.

Mr Taylor will say that headteachers should continue to use discretion and that the relevant regulations should be strengthened to make clear that schools should only give permission for where there are exceptional circumstances.

He will also call for a crackdown on primary school absence to make sure it is not a problem later on in life.

He will say: “The earlier schools address poor attendance patterns, the less likely it is that they will become a long-term issue.

“The best primary schools realise this and take a rigorous approach to poor attendance from the very start of school life.”

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