In law an offence occurs if a parent fails to secure their child’s attendance at school and that absence is not authorised by the school. There are now a number of sanctions and courses of action available to enable the Education Authority to address the non-attendance:
A Penalty Notice is an alternative to prosecution, which does not require an appearance in Court whilst still securing an improvement in a pupil’s attendance. Payment of a Penalty Notice enables parents to discharge potential liability for conviction.
A Penalty Notice may be issued if a pupil has had 10 or more unauthorised absence sessions in any 12 week period and the LA is satisfied that there is evidence that an offence has been committed under s444(1) or S444(1A) of the Education Act 1996.
The penalty notice carries a fine of £60 if paid within 21 days of receipt of the notice, rising to £120 if paid after 21 days but within 28 days of issue.
If the penalty notice is not paid in full by the end of 28 days the LA must prosecute for the offence of non-attendance or withdraw the notice.
There is no statutory right of appeal once the notice has been issued. Withdrawal of the notice only occurs in very limited circumstances when it has been served to the wrong person or issued in error. The notice must still be paid even if your child returns to school.
If you pay the Penalty Notice fine and your child continues to have unsatisfactory attendance, prosecution in the Magistrates Court or an Education Supervision Order under Section 36 of The Children Act 1989 may then be considered for the period not covered by the notice.
Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) Meetings
A PACE Meeting is held when a pupil’s attendance is not satisfactory and the Local Authority must decide whether statutory action is appropriate. At this meeting you will have an opportunity to state the reasons why your child has not attended school regularly and anything you may rely on in court as your defence or mitigating factors. The meeting is held for everyone involved to discuss the concerns and agree on a plan which will enable your child to receive their education.
It is arranged by the Access and Engagement Service (AES) and will be attended by school staff and anyone else who is able to contribute to the discussion. Those present will also discuss and be advised on what will happen if the attendance does not improve.
The Chair of the meeting, usually the AES Manager, will explain the two types of court action that are possible. A decision will be made at the PACE meeting about which kind of action will be taken.
If you have been served with a Penalty Notice and your child’s attendance continues to be unsatisfactory, a PACE Meeting will still go ahead to try to resolve the difficulties. Court action will be taken if the fine is not paid within the time limits.
Family Proceedings Court
The PACE meeting will consider applying to the Family Proceedings Court for an Education Supervision Order (ESO). An ESO makes the Local Authority (LA) responsible for advising, supporting and ‘giving directions’ to the supervised child and his/her parent to ensure the child receives efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs he or she may have. These directions must be defined by the LA and should aim to be helpful in bringing about an improvement in the child’s attendance. (e.g. the LA could direct a parent/child to attend meetings at the school over the period of the ESO, require the parent/child to keep the LA informed of their address, or require the parent to attend parenting classes.)
If a parent persistently fails to comply with directions given by the supervisor, usually AES Officer they may be guilty of a criminal offence and the parent/carer can be taken back to court.
If a child persistently fails to comply the supervisor is obliged to refer the matter to social services who have a duty to investigate under the Children Act 1989.
Alternatively or in addition to an ESO, the LA could bring criminal proceedings against a parent under s444(1) Education Act 1996 where it appears that a parent is failing in their duty to ensure the regular school attendance of their child.
There is also a more serious offence with increased penalties for parents failing to send their child to school (s444(1A) Education Act 1996). Under this section if a registered pupil does not attend school regularly, parents can be fined a maximum of £2,500 and/or imprisoned for up to 3 months. The higher penalty applies to parents who know their child is failing to attend regularly at school but still take no reasonable action to ensure their child attends.
As a matter of good practice, in interviews with parents, the AES Service will act in accordance with the spirit of the Codes of Practice set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 2000 (PACE) ensuring that the parent understands the basis for the interview, their needs are taken into account, their rights are explained and the interviews are conducted fairly.
The AES will be able to answer any questions you have about court action and the PACE meeting is an opportunity for you to raise these.