Fines for poor school attendance in East Sussex remain a 'last resort'

Fining parents for poor school attendance should be a ‘last resort’, a senior county councillor has said.

At a cabinet meeting on Monday (June 27), East Sussex County Council’s lead member for education Bob Standley faced questions related to proposals within the government’s Schools Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament.

Among the measures set out in the bill are plans to increase the maximum penalty a parent can face for breaching a Schools Attendance Order.

Similar to old style ASBOs, these orders, issued by local authorities like ESCC, require a parent to register their child at a named school.

School playground (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Currently parents can currently be fined up to £1,000 for breaching these orders. The new measures would increase this fine to £2,500 or lead to up to three months imprisonment.

While a parent could already face the same sanctions if prosecuted for knowingly failing to ensure their child is attending school, attaching the stronger penalties to the orders would essentially speed up the process of doing so.

These proposals saw some concerns raised by Lib Dem Alan Shuttleworth, who asked: “Does the lead member agree with me that many of the families who are struggling with attendance have children with special educational needs and in some cases are suffering from mental health problems?

“Does he believe that introducing a law to increase the level of fines for non attendance — and indeed even the threat of imprisonment for parents — is the best way to help those families and children to deal with these issues?

“Would he agree with me that measures to raise the level of counselling and mental health support would be much more appropriate in that regard?”

Cllr Standley responded: “In terms of attendance, members will know it has been a continuing problem for schools in East Sussex over a number of years. Obviously the pandemic hasn’t helped.

“[But] fining people, I think, is the last resort. We actually want to persuade them to send their children to school. That is where they should be.

“There may be occasions when they have to be fined but I think we should look at any other policy to make sure they are persuaded to send their children to school.”