Parents slapped with school fines and ‘wrongly’ told by Camden Council they cannot appeal
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Camden parents were forced to pay a total of £20,000 in school fines in the last year, new figures have revealed.
Lawyers have raised the alarm that parents are being “wrongly” told that they have no right to challenge the fines. But Camden Council said it must follow national legislation, which provides no right to appeal.
The council dished out 340 education penalty notices to parents in the 2015/2016 school year for ‘unauthorised absence’, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by law firm Simpson Millar.
Julie Robertson, a specialist solicitor at the legal firm, called it “hugely worrying” that parents are being told “that they have no statutory right of appeal when in fact they have a common law right to do just that”.
She said: “It is misleading and very concerning. I would even call it a breach of duty on behalf of certain authorities.”
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When a school notifies a council that a child has been absent ‘without a good reason’, the council can slap parents with a £60 fixed penalty notice. The fee doubles to £120 if parents fail to cough up within 21 days.
Children are only allowed to miss school if they are too ill or if parents have got permission in advance from the school.
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Parents may take children on holiday in term time only with the go-ahead from the headteacher or under exceptional circumstances. Otherwise they can be fined.
The figures reveal that some councils handed out fines much more freely than others. Of the London boroughs that responded to the request, Redbridge Council handed out the most - 3182, or £191,000 worth - and Hammersmith and Fulham gave out the least at 122, amounting to £7,320.
Ms Robertson said that although Camden’s figure was “by no means one of the highest in the region”, the most important aspect was “whether the schools thoroughly considered requests for term-time absence seriously, and whether the fines were issued in the context of each child’s attendance record and circumstances”.
She warned of a “postcode lottery”. “What one headteacher agrees are special circumstances, another doesn’t. We need more consistency and, in some areas, more common sense.
“Clearly, some schools are using their discretion appropriately where the parents are sensible in their choices and decisions. Others seem to be rather abundant in slapping parents with a fine regardless of the circumstances.”
Cllr Angela Mason, cabinet member for children, said: “The law we have to follow does not allow for appeals but we always consider the circumstances of every case and whether the decision taken by the school is appropriate.
“Whilst some decisions are upheld, other parents receive a warning letter or are invited to meet us to discuss their circumstances instead. This means not every parent referred to us receives a penalty notice.”