Brighton and Hove schools chief urges ministers to listen to parents over fines for term-time absences
Government ministers should listen to parents in the debate about fines for term-time absences, Brighton and Hove’s schools chief said today (Monday 13 June).
Councillor Tom Bewick spoke out after Schools Minister Nick Gibb wrote “to set out set out the government’s position on unauthorised school absence and next steps following the judgment by the High Court on Friday 13 May regarding the case of the Isle of Wight Council v Jon Platt”.
The minister wrote: “I am disappointed with the High Court ruling. I am clear that no child should miss school apart from in exceptional circumstances.
“There is clear evidence that absence from school is linked to lower levels of attainment. The department’s latest analysis published in March shows that every extra day missed was associated with lower attainment at age 11 and at age 16.
“In other words, every extra day of school that is missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSE results.”
He also said: “Head teachers continue to have the power to authorise leave of absence but only in exceptional circumstances.
“While family holidays are enriching experiences, the school year is designed to give families the opportunity for these breaks without having to disrupt their children’s education.
“It is for schools to consider the specific details and relevant context behind each request. Schools know their pupils best and are well placed to make those judgments.”
Councillor Bewick said: “It’s important that the government has now provided some response to recent court rulings in respect of unauthorised term-time absences. As the minister states, it is schools that know their pupils best, not distant officials in Westminster.
“It is disappointing therefore that the government has not yet come forward with fresh guidance as to what counts as ‘regular attendance’ in legal terms and neither, it seems, has the department signalled yet that it is prepared to look again at the 2013 regulations which is what I and many other campaigners have been calling for.
“No parent would disagree with better measures, including fines, to ensure maximum pupil attendance at schools.
“But for the public to have confidence in the overall integrity of the system there must be absolute clarity and transparency about how these rules, including any fines, are being applied.
“For that reason, I have asked the council’s director of children’s services to provide further assurances that the quadrupling of fines in the city since 2013 is being applied proportionately to the objective of improving school attendance.
“As with parking revenues and speeding camera fines in the past, the public is not going to be in favour of these fines being used by councils to plug revenue gaps.
“If that were to happen, the integrity of the whole system could be put in doubt.
“That’s why I’m calling on the government to listen to parents and implement a more transparent and flexible approach to term-time absences in future.”