Penalty Notices and Term Time Leave – What Parents Need to Know
In September 2013 the DfE changed the guidance to Heads on term time leave.
“The education (pupil registration) (England) (amendment) regulations 2013, which came into force on 1 September 2013, removed references to family holidays and extended leave as well as the notional threshold of ten school days. The amendments made clear that head teachers may not grant any leave of absence during term time unless ‘exceptional circumstances’ exist. The regulations also stated that head teachers should determine the number of school days a child can be away from school if leave is granted for ‘exceptional circumstances’. (NAHT 2014)”
The National Association of Head Teachers says “exceptional” is short, significant, unusual and unavoidable. (NAHT 2014)
Failure by a parent to ensure the regular school attendance of their school age child at the school on which they are on the roll is a criminal offence, and the Local Authority may put forwards a prosecution of the parents based on information in the school register.
An alternative more lenient action, where there has been no history of irregular attendance, is for the Head to request that a Penalty Notice is issued by the Local Authority.
A Penalty Notice is not a fine or a punishment; it gives a parent the opportunity to discharge their potential liability for the offence by payment of a fixed penalty within strict time limits.
There is no obligation on the parent to pay the Penalty and no sanction if they choose not to pay. Because of this there is no appeal to a Penalty Notice.
If a parent chooses not to take the opportunity offered by the Penalty Notice, then the Local Authority mustput the matter in front of the Magistrates Court for them to decide if an offence has been committed and if a fine should be imposed. The parent has the right to go to trial if they wish. Costs and fines are likely to be considerably higher in that event.
Advice to parents who are unhappy when they receive a Penalty Notice for unauthorised term time leave:
If the parent believes that there is an error in the recording of absence in the school register they should speak with the Head as soon as possible.
The coding in the register is at the Head’s discretion, following DfE guidance.
If the Head stands by the coding the parent must decide if they want to take the opportunity to discharge their liability by payment of the Penalty within the time limits, or if they want to dispute the matter in the Magistrates Court.
There is no flexibility on the amount or payment timescales – these are set out in law. There is no facility for part payment or payment by instalments.
If the parent is still unhappy they should be advised to take legal advice.
Requests for Holiday
Amendments to the 2006 regulations were made by the Education (PupilRegistration) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 and came into force on 1 September 2013.
The amendments made it clear that Headteachers may only grant leave of absence during term time for exceptional circumstances. Any request for leave must be made in writing to the Headteacher in advance.
There is no formal definition offered for exceptional leave at present by the Department for Education. However, from discussion with the DfE and professional associations it is suggested that exceptional leave would be:
Somerset County Council (SCC) supports schools:
In expecting parents and carers to make sure that children and young people attend school regularly. Any absence from school will impact on educational achievement, success in later life and longer term health and well being
In ensuring the law is upheld. Parents and carers are committing an offence if they fail to ensure the regular and punctual attendance of their child at the school where they are on roll. Schools must explain their stance on term time leave in their attendance policy so that parents/carers are clear on expectations and potential consequences, such as any unauthorised absence including taking term time leave not agreed with the school, can result in legal action being taken including Penalty Notices and court prosecution.
SCC cannot override a school’s decision not to authorise any term time leave.
Taking a child on holiday in term time interrupts the learning of the whole class and teachers have to spend time helping children catch up when they return. Parents should arrange holidays during the 13 week school holiday periods. Schools are open 190 days which leaves 175 days of the year for holidays.