Hundreds fewer school fines in Portsmouth after dad’s court battle

Fewer parents have been fined for taking their children out of school in Portsmouth
Fewer parents have been fined for taking their children out of school in Portsmouth
Isabel Boddington, nine, from Southsea with dad Sven and sister Eleanor, seven                     (171233-02)

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FINES given to parents for taking children out of school have plummeted since a dad took his council to court.

Figures obtained by Jon Platt, who won a High Court battle overturning a fine for unauthorised absences, show Portsmouth City Council has issued hundreds fewer fines.

Jon Platt, who won a court case against the Isle of Wight Council and has challenged Portsmouth City Council over its school absence policy

Jon Platt, who won a court case against the Isle of Wight Council and has challenged Portsmouth City Council over its school absence policy

Following the Isle of Wight parent’s court victory in May, the city council issued 30 truancy penalty notices in June this year, down from 222 in June 2015.

And in July this year the figure dropped to 18, down from 257 last year.

This is despite overall fines increasing from 799 in 2012/13 to 1,191 in 2014/15.

Mr Platt obtained the figures under the Freedom of Information Act and also demanded to know if the council had changed its policy.

We will continue to issue fixed penalty notices in line with our policy where this is appropriate

Neil Stevenson

In a response to him the authority denied it had.

Mr Platt said: ‘You say there has been no change but how can you explain the 90 per cent fall year on year in the numbers issued if there has not been a policy change?’

He added: ‘This is not acceptable. Parents are entitled to know the circumstances under which they may be issued a penalty notice or prosecuted and you are keeping that policy a secret.’

Headteachers have discretion to approve term-time absences if they are considered exceptional circumstances. If not then the matter is referred to the council and a penalty notice issued.

Parents can be prosecuted in court if this is unpaid.

Neil Stevenson, Portsmouth City Council’s attendance service manager, said: ‘We strongly believe that 100 per cent attendance is the best way to ensure children succeed.

‘We will continue to issue fixed penalty notices in line with our policy where this is appropriate.’

A Department for Education spokesman added the government is supporting the Isle of Wight council in its appeal against the ruling.

He said: ‘If a headteacher doesn’t deem it as an exceptional circumstance they’re within their rights to issue a fine.

‘The fine is delivered by the council. Nothing has changed in the aftermath of the court ruling.’

At Hampshire County Council the penalties issued increased from 17 in June 2015 to 184 in June this year.

A spokeswoman for the authority, covering Gosport, Fareham and Havant, said its policy had not changed.

PORTSMOUTH CITY COUNCIL’S POLICY

UNDER sections 444A and 444B of the Education Act 1996, headteachers and council officers have the power to issue penalties for unauthorised absences.

An offence is committed if a parent fails to secure a child’s attendance at a school unless it is authorised.

A School Attendance Team (Sat) then issues penalty notices, on request from police, schools and local authorities.

The team must issue a warning, set 30 days where a pupil must have no unauthorised absences and then issue a notice at the end of 30 days if there’s been no improvement.

If appropriate a notice can be issued without formal warning.

They can only be withdrawn if there is proof the notice was issued to the wrong person, the notice did not conform to the terms of the protocol, or if the notice contained errors that matter.

The cost if paid within 21 days is £60 and the cost after this time but within 28 days is £120.

Any parent who does not pay the penalty will be prosecuted, according to Portsmouth City Council’s protocol.

The council keeps all the cash to fund prosecuting and collecting penalties for unauthorised school absences.

The Sat team reviews the use of penalties at regular intervals.