Doncaster Council issued more than 2,400 fines to parents in the borough for their children’s unauthorised school absences, new figures have revealed.
The local authority issued 2,488 fines of £60 to parents between the 2015/16 school year, which is a rise of 12.5 per cent on the previous academic year when 2,177 penalties were handed out by Doncaster Council.
If a school notifies the local council that a child has had unauthorised absence, the council can issue the parents with a £60 fixed penalty notice which rises to £120 if it isn’t paid within 21 days.
If all of the fines were paid within 21 days it would amount to £149,280.
Solicitor Julie Robertson from Simpson Millar, which specialises in helping families challenge unreasonable fines, says the tone and language used on websites regarding the rules around Education Penalty Notices appears to deliberately frighten parents into paying the fines quickly.
“The threat of criminal proceedings and a possible conviction naturally makes parents pay up without question. It is a very effective tactic.
“It is hugely worrying that parents are told by many councils that they have no statutory right of appeal when in fact they have a common law right to do just that. It is misleading and very concerning. I would even call it a breach of duty on behalf of certain authorities,” said Julie.
She added: “From the national figures we can see how some schools are using their discretion appropriately where the parents are sensible in their choices and decisions.
“Others seem to be rather abundant in slapping parents with a fine regardless of the circumstances.
“What one head teacher agrees are special circumstances, another doesn’t. It is a postcode lottery. We need more consistency and, in some areas, more common sense.”
Education Penalty Notices were introduced by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 in a bid to help curb unauthorised absence for children of school age.
Damian Allen, Director of Learning Opportunities and Skills, said: “Regular attendance at school is very important for every child. Doncaster Council will continue to promote the importance of regular school attendance to all parents and where appropriate issue Fixed Penalty Notices and take court action.
“Head teachers are responsible for deciding whether a fine should be issued to parents, based on guidance from the Department for Education and each case should be judged individually.
“Doncaster Council’s role is to administer the fines system and any funds received are reinvested in improving attendance.
“Poor attendance is likely to have a significant impact on the children affected and their ability to secure a bright future for themselves and their families.”