Parents are being ‘fined, prosecuted even imprisoned' - Fines for unauthorised school absences are going up and here's what an education advocate needs you to know

It's usually the mother being fined and prosecuted

A group of young children running from their classroom
(Image credit: Alamy)

Fines for school absences are on the rise, with some parents also finding themselves being prosecuted or imprisoned. An education advocate shares her feelings on government's handling of absence, and the facts caregivers need to know.

School fines for unauthorised absences means the cost of going away during school holidays can be crippling for some families, as prices rise exponentially when the kids are at home. Wondering how to make ends meet during school breaks has also been compounded by rising costs generally - the result being that the choice to book a holiday at an overly-inflated price is taken away altogether. 

For many, the only way to get precious family time together is to book a holiday during school time. However, the government are cracking down on this, which could see fines for unauthorised school absences in England rising by 33%. According to the government Education Hub, new national frameworks will see all schools required to consider a fine when a child misses 10 or more sessions (or five days) not officially authorised. 

From August 2024, fines will be £80 if paid within 21 days, rising to £160 if paid within 28 days - the first increase since 2012. Parents receiving repeated fines (those handed a second fine for the same child within three years,) will be charged £160. Fines per parent will be limited to two within any three years - once this limit is reached, caregivers could find themselves given a parenting order or being prosecuted. 

Education advocate Fiona Cameron-Green, disagrees with the government strategy and believes parents aren't properly being informed of the facts. Sharing a post with her Instagram followers, Cameron-Green wrote "For what it's worth, my view is that school attendance has no place in the criminal justice system️. Fear doesn't drive long-term change. The government are, yet again, missing the point on this."

21 things parents need to know about fines for unauthorised absence 

  1. Fines can be issued when there's been 10 unauthorised sessions (five days) of absence in a period of 10 weeks.
  2. You could be fined for a child who misses a week of school to take a holiday.
  3. Fines could also be given for 10 late arrivals during one term.
  4. Fines aren't automatic, but have to be considered by the school.
  5. More guidance is required as different schools follow different rules, creating inconsistency.
  6. Fines from September 2024, fines will be £80 per parent, rising to £160 if not paid within 21 days.
  7. Therefore, a family of four could be potentially be fined £360 for taking a week of unauthorised holiday - that is per parent.
  8. Families who do the same again within three years, will automatically be issued fines of the higher amount, meaning they could have to pay £720.
  9. You can't be fined more than twice in a three year period, but you can be prosecuted.
  10. Nearly 400,000 penalty notices were issued to parents during 2022-23.
  11. 89.3% of those were for unauthorised holidays.
  12. Some of those numbers were made up of families with SEN children experiencing school anxiety or inability to attend school.
  13. Fines should be a last resort and school should offer support to improve attendance in the first instance.
  14. Parents can be fined, prosecuted, and some have been issued custodial sentences.
  15. It is usually the mother who is fined and prosecuted.
  16. The government's 'national attendance ambassador' doesn't believe fines improve school attendance.
  17. Fines punish struggling families that can't afford holidays during peak time, or because they have children who can't cope with crowds.
  18. Parents of SEN children are still being fined even if the real problem is that their needs aren't being met in school.
  19. Schools and local authorities aren't always following DfE guidance correctly, meaning inappropriate fines are being issued.
  20. Local authorities keep the proceeds from fines, needing they need to keep issuing them as council funding is low.
  21. Fines and potential imprisonment harm families with children unable to attend school.

Cameron-Green concluded her post by reminding parents: "If you have been fined remember that you have a right to appeal and many people have success in doing this.

Also bear in mind that if your child is not compulsory school age (CSA) then you do not need to seek permission to remove your child from school and you cannot be fined. CSA is the term after the term that the child turns five." 

Comments on the post were overwhelmingly in agreement of the points being made. One person wrote "I think it's disgusting, we went away every year for 2 weeks on a family holiday and it did us no harm. I take my kids out, we cannot afford a holiday in school holidays, why should my kids miss out because it's just so expensive."

Another added "Not only is it discrimination towards children who are unable to attend school due to their needs not being met, the policy also disproportionately targets women. Do you think any of the people making these decisions have actually read the Equality Act?"  

More parents have shared why this latest government scheme to increase school attendance has left them enraged. Sometimes, it's not school refusal, it's EBSA - a child psychologist shares what this is, and how parents can help. If you have a child who struggles to go back to school after a weekend or school holiday, expert advice is on hand for assistance. 

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.