A zero tolerance approach to children going on holidays during term time coupled with introducing Fixed Penalty Notices for a child’s poor school attendance has been introduced by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council.
Cabinet members have voted in support of the widespread proposals by the Council’s dedicated Attendance and Wellbeing Service who support schools, pupils and their families to address absenteeism.
Through the introduction of the Education (Penalty Notice) (Wales) Regulations 2013 the Council will now use fixed penalty notices for non-school attendance.
The £60 fines will be given to the parents or carer of any child who takes five days unauthorised absence from school in one term. The fines increase if not paid within a 28 day period and could even lead to a court hearing.
Following close consultation with schools, governing bodies and the police, the Council service will introduce a strict adherence to the process across all Rhondda Cynon Taf schools from September 2014.
It will also come into force with a new zero tolerance approach to taking children out of the classroom to go on holidays during term time. Until now some schools allowed parents to take their child out of class for family holidays.
The Council has agreed the policy with exemptions to:
Those families of serving armed forces personnel
Parents of a child experiencing a life limiting inlless
Family that has suffered acute trauma
The same legislation has been used in neighbouring Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil Councils with others now considering adopting the practice. Evidence suggests that measurable improvements in attendance rates have taken place in those local authorities due to the adoption of the zero tolerance approach.
Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Director of Education & Lifelong Learning, Chris Bradshaw explained: “Regular and punctual attendance at school is a legal requirement and essential if children and young people are to have access to a range of educational opportunities enabling them to have the best chance to succeed in life and become active, responsible participants in the communities in which they will live as adults.
“Children and young people have the right to an appropriate education which meets their needs and when they are in school are also at less risk of harm.
“The majority of young learners attend school, are punctual and fully engaged with the curriculum. For some regular attendance is a challenge for many reasons.
“As a local authority we have a range of assessment and intervention strategies available from schools and officers of the Attendance and Wellbeing Service to help families overcome barriers to regular attendance. We regard sanctions of Fixed Penalty Notices being used as the last resort.
“We want to provide children in the County Borough with an educational experience that enables them to make the most of the opportunities available to them in adulthood. Tackling truancy and pupil absence is a key part of this.
“The impact of a good education on a community is profound. There is a strong connection between illiteracy and social exclusion for young people and adults”.
The Education (Penalty Notice) (Wales) Regulations 2013 act gives local authorities new powers to issue Fixed Penalty Notices to parents of children and young people who are persistently absent from school without authority.
The Welsh Government has introduced the measure as an added means of addressing unauthorised absence from school particularly in circumstances where there is a reasonable expectation its use will secure an improvement in the future.
The legislation also stipulates were a pupils’ absence is lawful, such as:
When the pupil was prevented from attending due to illness or unavoidable cause
Absence occurred on a day set aside for religious observance
The local authority failed to make suitable travel arrangements
The child is excluded
Fixed Penalty notices will be issued when there is a minimum of 10 unauthorised sessions (five school days) of absence in a school term, and these do not have to be consecutive.
They may also be issued for persistent late arrivals after registration, parents failed to engage with the school or Council service to improve attendance, holidays were taken during term time or the pupil came to the attention of the police during school hours and was absent without an acceptable reason.
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