Suffolk: Term-time holiday crackdown has halved truancy rates in three years

Families are taking less term-time holidays

Families are taking less term-time holidays - Credit: Archant

A government clampdown on term-time holidays is a key reason why truancy rates in Suffolk have almost halved in just three years, it was claimed last night.

A total of 3,570 primary and secondary pupils in the county were described as persistently absent – missing at least 38 classes (15%) for authorised and unauthorised reasons – in 2013/14.

This is a huge fall from 6,007 in 2010/11. It means around 2,500 youngsters who frequently skipped school three years ago are now back in the classroom on a more regular basis.

Total student numbers have remained constant at around 83,000. The figures were released by the Department for Education.

Nigel Shaddick, senior education welfare officer at Suffolk County Council, said the drop was partly down to tough new rules designed to curb term-time holidays.

Headteachers are now only able to grant permission for trips during term time in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Before the controversial change in September last year, school leaders could grant up to 10 days leave a year for family holidays in special circumstances.

Opponents argue that some families are unable, or cannot afford, to take breaks during school holidays.

Most Read

It came a year after headteachers were allowed to impose a £60 spot fine on parents responsible for truanting children, rising to £120 if it goes unpaid. This compares to just £50 under the previous government. The time limit for paying was also cut from 28 to 21 days for a £60 fine and from 42 to 28 days for a £120 fine.

Mr Shaddick said: “Instant fines have had an impact. I have been in some schools recently where parents have come in and the school has said we are not going to authorise this holiday and you will be getting an instant fine.

“Some parents, but not all, have said they will change the dates. Some parents still insist on going on holiday and they will carry the consequences. If they don’t pay the fine they will go to court.

“It is about early intervention. We work closely with schools and families, and have been quite successful.

“Holidays have always been an issue, but we are telling parents that there are other times when you can take them. Parents need to think about it because strong research shows there is a correlation between attendance and results.”

Government ministers have pressed for the threshold for what qualifies as persistent truancy to be further lowered, meaning more parents would be in line for sanctions. It was cut from 20% to 15% in 2011.

Prime Minister David Cameron has also previously suggested cutting the benefits of parents who allow their children to routinely skip school.

Lisa Chambers, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, said the figures are “extremely pleasing”.

She said: “We developed a clear strategy in 2013 to tackle truancy and persistent absence and have worked consistently with all partners to robustly implement this. This is very important as we know that if your child attends school for 90% of the year, they will only have a 50% chance of achieving five A* to C grades at GCSE.

“We have worked hard over the past few years with schools to help parents understand the impact of their child missing out on education. It is pleasing that this work is paying off and that together we have exceeded the targets we have set ourselves in this strategy.

“Schools have successfully run a range of effective initiatives aimed at tackling the problem and alongside all other professionals we have prioritised attendance in their work with children. We make sure that this good practice is shared across the county.

“Given the direct link between attendance and achievement we cannot and will not become complacent and we have set a new target for next year.”

Parents who want to find out more information on how to support their child’s attendance at school are urged to visit their website.