Suffolk County Council is committed to providing all children with the best start in life. Good school attendance is a key factor in ensuring that children can make the most of their education.
The majority of parents and carers in Suffolk ensure that their children attend school regularly. Unfortunately for a small but significant minority that is not the case. As a result, the local authority may decide to begin the process of issuing a legal penalty notice for unauthorised absence from school.
The legal basis for penalty notices
The law says that parents and carers whose children of compulsory school age are absent from school without good reason are committing an offence, and those parents may be prosecuted in the Magistrate’s Court.
Section 23 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 introduced additional powers under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 authorising local authorities to issue penalty notices in cases of unauthorised absence from school.
When will a penalty notice be issued?
Staff working in children and young people’s services will always aim to work with schools and parent and carers to improve pupil attendance. However the local authority does have the responsibility to issue penalty notices in the following situations where unauthorised absence occurs:
- Where a pupil has missed at least 10 sessions (5 school days) due to unauthorised absence during a school term.
- Where a pupil is stopped with parents/carers during a truancy sweep and the absence is not authorised by the school.
Parents and carers will always be issued with a formal written warning of the intention to issue a penalty notice, before the notice is sent out. The only exception to this is if you have been stopped with your child or children during a truancy sweep, as a penalty notice can be issued immediately in those circumstances.
On receipt of this warning, you will have 15 school days to improve your child’s attendance, in that time your child must have no unauthorised absences from school. If your child's attendance improves and there are no further unauthorised absences, you will not receive a penalty notice. Please be aware that there is no legal right of appeal once a notice has been issued against you.
How do I pay and what happens if I don’t pay the penalty notice?
Details of payment arrangements will be included on the penalty notice. The penalty must be paid in full. The penalty is £60 if paid within 21 days, increasing to £120 if paid between 21 and 28 days.
NB) the reduction in time for paying the £60 penalty payment from 28 to 21 days comes into effect from 1 September 2013.
If you do not pay the penalty in full within 28 days of issue, the Local Authority is required to start legal proceedings against you in the local Magistrate’s Court for the original offence of failing to ensure your child attends school regularly. This may lead to a fine of up to £1,000.
Once payment of a penalty notice has been made parents and carers will no longer be liable for their child’s absence from school during the period to which the notice relates. But, if your child has further periods of unauthorised absence from school, the local authority may decide to take you back to court for a further prosecution.
School attendance - useful advice
- Send your child to school on time every day
- If your child is unwell, contact the school on the first day of absence and return your child to school as soon as possible
- Make sure your child knows you do not approve of them missing school
- Take holidays only during school holidays
- Make sure your child goes to school with the correct uniform and equipment
Seek help early!
Talk to staff as soon as any problems arise, they will work with you and your family to find a solution to the issue.