News story

Government announces Child Benefit deductions in tougher approach to truancy

Government announces its intention to introduce tougher measures to address truancy, including deducting the cost of unpaid penalty notices from Child Benefit.

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The planned changes will make it simpler for schools and local authorities to tackle parents who allow their child to be absent from school without permission. The government will introduce new provisions to recover unpaid penalty notices directly through parents’ child benefit and, where parents do not receive child benefit, through the courts. Local authorities will be given a new duty to pursue all penalties. The new mandatory penalty for each offence will be £60 if paid within 21 days and £120 subsequently.

Following a consultation, the government plans to issue statutory guidance to local authorities, explaining how local authorities can use a range of sanctions to tackle truancy, including the right to prosecute in the most serious instances. Criminal prosecution will continue to enable fines of up to £2,500 and possible imprisonment.

The most recent figures show we have made real progress - with 200,000 fewer pupils regularly missing school compared with five years ago. Overall, the absence rate is down from 6.0 per cent in 2009/10 academic year to 4.4 per cent in 2013/14 academic year. Some 14.5 million fewer school days were lost to overall absence - 42.5 million days were missed in 2013/14 due to absence, compared to 57.0 million missed in 2009/10. These figures are over five half terms.

Reducing school absence, however, remains a top priority for this government. Evidence shows that good attendance is linked to attainment, with pupils with no absence from school nearly three times more likely to achieve five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths, and around 10 times more likely to achieve the English Baccalaureate, than pupils missing 15-20 per cent of school across Key Stage 4.

These changes will ensure every child, regardless of their background, is given the opportunity to reach their potential.

Background

In 2012 Charlie Taylor, the government’s expert adviser on behaviour, published his report ‘Improving attendance at school’ which set out thirteen recommendations for government. The majority of these recommendations have now been taken forward.

Schools and local authorities can use a range of measures to provide support and/or sanctions to parents when their child’s irregular attendance or behaviour in school becomes a problem. These measures are used to reinforce parents’ responsibilities and to support them in improving their child’s behaviour and/or attendance at school.

Schools and local authorities can issue penalty notices (fines) for unauthorised absences. These penalty notices are not enforceable.

If they are not paid, the only recourse open to local authorities is to prosecute parents for their children’s irregular attendance under section 444 of the Education Act 1996 and parents can be liable for court fines of up to £2500.

Penalty notices can be issued to parents either because their child has failed to attend school regularly or if their excluded child is found in a public place during school hours without justification.

Each local authority must issue a code of conduct that specifies the criteria for schools including academies to issue penalty notices, and contains arrangements that must be followed to avoid such things as duplication of penalty notices.

Published 6 October 2015