Figures show term time holiday fines having no impact on absenteeism in Wales

Figures show term time holiday fines having no impact on absenteeism in Wales

Fining parents for taking children out of school in term time has had no effect on overall absence rates, new figures published for Wales reveal.

The number of unauthorised family holidays went up after fixed-penalty notices were introduced in 2013, according to a review of the system.

People interviewed by the Welsh government-commissioned report shared stories of travel agents paying fines as part of a holiday deal or of a social worker paying fines for families that they support to ensure the family’s wellbeing is not adversely affected.

Some also speculated that parents did not pay fines because they did not believe the local authority would proceed to prosecution, the BBC reported.

The biggest decline in overall absence in Wales was in the two years before the Welsh government introduced fines for parents taking their child out of school without permission.

Analysis of 21 local authority areas showed that the proportion of unauthorised absences had fallen between 2014-15 and 2015-16 in only three of those areas. In the remaining 18 it had stayed the same or increased.

The most fixed-penalty notices were issued in Cardiff in 2015-16, with 1,531, while Rhondda Cynon Taf had 1,063 issued, 90% of which were fines for term-time holidays. Torfaen, Monmouthshire and Carmarthenshire councils issued no notices.

The review recommended changing the present system with the Welsh government saying it would consider its proposal.

It surveyed teachers and staff of local councils and local education consortiums. Several respondents said that the level of the fine was too low to encourage a change in behaviour.

They said this was particularly the case for unauthorised term-time absences for holidays because some parents preferred to pay a £60 fine compared to the cost of going away during school holidays.

One respondent said “in this deprived area many families cannot afford the costs of a holiday out of term time. If they can, they soak up the cost of the fine as part of the holiday cost (which means the fine has zero effect)”.

The report said: “Improving the attendance of pupils in schools in Wales is a key priority of the Welsh government. Regularly attending school is critical to ensuring pupils achieve to the best of their ability and get the best possible start in life.

“In 2013 the Welsh government enacted education penalty regulations, which allow penalty notices to be issued to parents for regular unauthorised absence by their children.”

It said that most local authorities introduced the fixed-penalty notices in the 2014-15 academic year.

It added: “There is no evidence of a relationship between changing levels of authorised, unauthorised and overall absence and penalty notices, but the relative levels of each suggest that different interpretations are being made, despite similar local authority codes [of conduct].

The report concluded: “The data suggests that fixed-penalty notices have not had any effect on the level of authorised absence and overall absence.”

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