School absences finally dropping

Under English law, children must commence their education in the school term after their fifth birthday and continue it through the last Friday in June of the school year they turn 16. Also under English law, parents can be fined and/or prosecuted if they allow their children to miss school, except in certain circumstances such as illness or with prior approval from a headmaster in other cases such as family vacations.

The government has been going round and round the truancy problem for years in its attempt to persuade parents that allowing children to skip days of school is seriously undermining the educational process. The more days a child misses the less he or she is likely to keep up with the school’s curriculum and with classmates who show up every day. In the long run the truants are less likely to acquire the knowledge and skills they’ll need to support themselves and a family in later years.

Department of Education data for the academic year 2011/12 discloses that 41,224 penalty notices were issued to parents whose children missed school days, 8,583 more than in 2010/11. About half the penalties, which carried a fine of £60, were paid in the 28 days allowed; after that the fine is doubled to £120. Non-payment of fines led to prosecution in 6,361 cases.

However the overall absence rate dropped from 5.8% in 2011 to 5.1% in 2012, and the statistics showed that fewer pupils missed more than a month of school. ‘Persistent absentees’, those who miss more than 19 days, were substantially fewer (down from 6.1% in 2011 to 5.2% in 2012).

Government statisticians suggest that the decrease in truancy might have resulted from fewer parents taking kids on holiday during school term, and the four-day Muslim festival Eid al-Adha falling out of term time. It’s still unclear whether the fines and penalties levied on parents made a significant difference in the level of truancy.


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