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School absence penalty notices
If your child has unauthorised absences a school can make a request to Devon County Council (through the Education Welfare Service) to instigate legal action. If you have parental responsibility*, this could mean receiving any of the following:
A school absence penalty notice
Should a school absence penalty notice be issued, one notice will be issued to each parent/carer for each child involved.
A magistrates summons
This could lead to a criminal record, a fine of up to £2,500 and/or a term of imprisonment for up to 3 months.
Education Supervision Order (ESO)
The Children Act 1989 allows the local education authority to apply to the Family Proceedings Court for an ESO for any child of compulsory school age, whom it is felt, is not being properly educated. The intention behind the ESO is to support parents in fulfilling their legal responsibilities. The ESO is only suitable where the child and the parents/carers are willing to co-operate with the process. If the application for an order is successful the ESO will last for one year but may be extended for up to 3 years. A Supervising Officer will be appointed by the Court. The role of the Supervisor is to work with the child and family to ensure that an appropriate education is received.
*The Education Act 1996 defines a parent as: ‘all natural parents, whether married or not and any person who is not a parent of the child but who has parental responsibility or who has care of the child’.
If you receive a school absence penalty notice you have 3 options:
- Option 1: Within 21 calendar days of receipt of the penalty notice, pay £60.
- Option 2: Between 22 and 28 calendar days after receipt of the penalty notice, pay £120.
- Option 3: Do not pay the penalty notice. In such cases, you will be automatically summoned to appear in court for an offence under Section 444(1) Education Act 1996.
If you pay options 1 or 2, this discharges any and all liability on your behalf concerning the non-attendance of your child, for the period quoted in the penalty notice. This means that it will not result in you having to attend court and you will not have a criminal conviction recorded against you.
However, if you are unable to pay the penalty notice or you feel that one of the statutory defences applies then, by choosing option 3, you will have the opportunity to explain your situation to the court.
If you either plead guilty or you are found guilty, the courts have a wide range of sentencing options, which could include a maximum fine of £2,500, and or 3 months imprisonment.
The only statutory defences to an offence under the Section 444 Education Act 1996 are that:
- your child was absent for medical reasons or there was another unavoidable cause
- the local authority failed to provide transport when required to do so
- the absences were due to family religious observance
- you had prior permission from the school, for example, a term-time holiday that was authorised, in advance, by the school