Parents of children whose level of attendance at school is unacceptable can be issued with a penalty notice. Section 23 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 allows these penalty notices to be issued by local authorities, senior staff in schools and police officers.
Reducing absence from school is a key priority nationally and locally.
Missing school damages a pupil's attainment levels, disrupts school routines and the learning of others and can leave a pupil vulnerable to anti-social behaviour and youth crime.
Above all, missing school seriously affects children's longer-term life opportunities.
These penalty notices will be issued where a parent or carer is considered capable of but unwilling to secure an improvement in their child's school attendance. The powers came into force on 27 February 2004.
What is a penalty notice?
Under existing legislation, parents or carers commit an offence if a child fails to attend regularly and the absences are classed as unauthorised (those for which the school cannot or has not given permission). Depending on circumstances, such cases may result in prosecution under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996.
A penalty notice is an alternative to prosecution, which does not require an appearance in Court, whilst still securing an improvement in a pupil's attendance.
Payment of a penalty notice enables parents to discharge potential liability for conviction.
What are the costs?
Payment within 21 days of receipt of a notice is £60 and £120 if paid after this but within 28 days.
When are they used?
Sunderland considers that regular attendance at school is of such importance that penalty notices may be used in a range of situations where unauthorised absence occurs:
- As an alternative to court prosecution
- Where the parent is judged capable of securing their child's regular attendance, but is not willing to take responsibility for doing so
- At an earlier stage than a court prosecution, before attendance problems become entrenched.
You will receive a written warning of the possibility of a penalty notice being issued.
This will tell you the extent of your child's absences and give you 15 school days in which to effect an improvement. In that time your child must have no unauthorised absences from school.
There is no limit to the number of times a formal warning of possible penalty notice issue may be made.
There is no statutory right of appeal once a notice has been issued, but on receipt of a warning, you can make representation should you wish.
How to pay
Further information on how to pay is included on the notice.
You need to be aware that payment in part or by instalment is not an option with penalty notices.
You have up to 28 days from receipt to pay the penalty notice in full.
After this period, the Authority is required under the Education Act 1996 to commence proceedings in the Magistrates court for the original offence of poor attendance by your child.
If proven, this can attract a range of fines up to £1,000 and a range of disposals such as Parenting Orders or Community Sentences depending upon the circumstances.
Can I be prosecuted if I pay the penalty notice but my child is still missing school?
Not for the period included in the penalty notice - payment discharges your liability in this respect.
However, it may be the case that a prosecution might be considered for further periods of poor attendance not covered by the notice, depending on the circumstances.
If this is an issue, it is vital that you work closely with your child's school and support agencies such as the Attendance Team.
Help available if your child is not attending regularly
The Local Authority and your child's school will give you advice and support if you need help to secure an improvement in your child's attendance.
It is very important that you speak with the school or with the Locality Attendance Officer at the earliest opportunity if you have any worries at all about securing your child's attendance.
School staff and the Attendance Team would much rather work to resolve poor attendance than resort to enforcement actions like penalty notices or court.
For further information please see the local code of conduct or contact the Attendance team on 0191 561 5601 or 561 5817.