Criminal Law Update – School absence

Criminal Law Update – School absence

School absence

The government has announced new proposals to address the way schools deal with avoidable absences. They refer to the current system as a postcode lottery with different approaches to sanctions across the country. Some local authorities did not issue any fines at all in the year 2020/21, while others issued over 1,500.

How bad is non-attendance?

The government cites an increase in the number of pupils persistently absent from secondary schools. In 2019 there were 454,167 persistent absences which increased to 501,642 in Autumn 2020. These figures do not include non-attendance in Covid circumstances.

Consultation

The new consultation contains a proposal that all schools have robust policies in place setting out how they will deal with absences and detailing how they will support pupils to attend regularly. The consultation also sets out how legal intervention, including the use of penalty notices, should be used in “promoting good attendance” by local authorities.

Views are sought on what should be included in new measures to improve the consistency of school attendance support and management. The proposed measures are:

  • schools to be required to have an attendance policy which must have regard to the statutory guidance on the expectations of schools.
  • guidance on the expectations of local authority attendance services.
  • a national framework for attendance legal intervention, including a new regulatory framework for issuing fixed penalty notices.
  • bring the rules for granting leaves of absence in academies in line with other state-funded schools.

The effect of Covid

The pandemic continues to have an effect on pupil attendance, and this is recognised by the consultation. The government says, however, that it is determined to address the wider underlying causes of children missing school.

The Schools Minister said that Covid had led to unavoidable absences, but that meant it was even more important now to reduce avoidable absence. The latest school attendance statistics state that 99.9% of schools are open and 87.4% of pupils are attending.

Action for schools

As of now schools are being asked to sign up to a new daily attendance data collection trial. School registers will provide the data directly which will reduce the administrative burden and help schools and other agencies to spot.

The Children’s Commissioner is also interrogating local authority data to step up efforts to support children who are persistently absent from school.

What happens now?

The consultation lasted until 28 February 2022 after which the government will publish its response. It certainly appears that the outcome of this consultation will result in more penalty notices being issued. In the announcement the government does say that the new standards will ensure fines are used when all other options have been explored. However, it also says that schools are to have robust policies in place and set out how penalty notices would be used in promoting good attendance.

How can we help?

If you need assistance with any school non-attendance penalty notice or prosecution, get in touch immediately for expert advice, by contacting our Crime Team on 01743 248545 or mail@hatchers.co.uk.

[Image:  “nostalgic school corridor” by Nao Iizuka is licensed under CC BY 2.0]