Vicky Buchanan, Exec Director of Children's Services
We understand many parents and carers have questions about children returning to school on the 8th March. Sefton’s Executive Director for Children’s Social Care and Education, Vicky Buchanan, sends a message of advice, reassurance and ‘thanks’, for all of the support whilst children and young people have been away from their educational settings.
During the on-going pandemic, and current closure of schools, we are working closely with schools and other partners to promote and support regular attendance of vulnerable children.
We have put in to place a first day response system as part of our planning for keeping children safe. Guidance and first day response form available to download here.
In March 2020 when the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was increasing, the government made it clear that no parent would be penalised or sanctioned for their child’s non-attendance at school as schools were then closed to all but those specific groups of pupils.
Now the circumstances have changed and the measures taken by the government have meant that children can safely return to school. It is vital for all children to return to school to minimise as far as possible the longer-term impact of the pandemic on their education, wellbeing and wider development. We know that children have not only missed out on learning but also missed being with their friends and the wider social aspects of school.
Missing out on more time in the classroom risks pupils falling further behind. Those with higher levels of absence tend to achieve less well in both primary and secondary school. Therefore, the Department for Education have confirmed that school attendance is compulsory again from the beginning of September 2020 when schools re-open after the summer break.
This means from 1 September 2020, the usual rules on school attendance apply, including:
- it is a parents’ duty to send their child to school regularly if they are of compulsory school age
- it is schools’ responsibility to record attendance and follow up absence
- the local authority is able to resume the use of legal sanctions, including penalty notices and processes that may lead to prosecution in court for persistent absence.
If you have any concerns about your child returning to school when they re-open in September you should discuss your concerns with the school directly. The school will be able to offer reassurance about the protective measures they have in place, and all schools work closely with health and other agencies who may also be able to help if needed.
In addition, the view from Sefton Local Authority is that it would not be advisable to take your child out of school for a family holiday or other term time leave once schools re-open, as your child could miss out on the focused additional support for pupils to close the gap in learning missed during the period of lockdown. If any parents are considering taking their child out of school they must request the leave by following the schools ‘request for leave of absence’ procedure, allowing ample time for the Headteacher to consider if there are exceptional circumstances. The more regularly your child attends school, the more they will be able to benefit from teaching and catch up. Any leave that is unauthorised by the school may lead to penalty notices being issued.
After so much disruption to your child/ren’s education over recent months, the most important thing is that schools and parents work together to get children back into school. The school is ready to listen so please contact them if you have any worries and they will try to help you.
The short videos will show you how they have prepared to go back.
St Nicholas Primary School
Litherland High School
Chesterfield High School
Penalty notices for school non-attendance
A penalty notice is a fine issued to parents or carers for their child's unauthorised absence from school. A penalty notice is an alternative to being prosecuted under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996. In Sefton, penalty notices are most often used for unauthorised absence/holidays in term time.
Penalty notices are sent through the post. The penalty notice contains information explaining how and where to pay.
All penalty notices must be issued within the local Code of Conduct. You can get a copy of the Sefton Code of Conduct from the Localities Schools Regulatory Service.
Taking children out of school during term time
The law was changed in 2013 and made it clear that head teachers may not grant leave of absence during term time unless there are exceptional circumstances.
You should not take your children out of school during term time unless you are granted authorised leave of absence by the head teacher. If you do take your child out of school without the leave of absence being authorised, the head teacher may direct the Council to take measures to issue either a penalty notice or prosecute you as parents.
Responsibility for paying the penalty notice
The parent/carer named on the letter and on the invoice, is responsible for paying the penalty notice. If penalty notices have been issued to two parents at the same address, each individual parent is responsible for paying their own penalty notice. Penalty notices are issued to each individual parent/carer of each individual child separately.
Under Section 576 of the Education Act 1996 a parent is defined as:
- All natural parents, whether they are married or not
- Any person who, although not a natural parent, has parental responsibility for a child or young person
- And any person who, although not a natural parent, has care of a child or young person. Having care of a child or young person means that a person with whom the child lives and who looks after the child, is considered to be a parent in education law.
How much a penalty notice costs
The penalty notice is for £60, per parent, per child, which rises to £120 if you don't pay within 21 days. If you don't pay the fine after 28 days you may be prosecuted (under Section 444 of the Education Act) for the offence of failing to ensure your child's regular attendance at school.
You must pay the whole of the amount owing in one payment - you cannot pay in instalments and you cannot pay part of the penalty notice.
Withdrawal of a penalty notice
A penalty notice can only be withdrawn if it is shown that it should not have been issued to you or has not been issued to you in accordance with the local Code of Conduct.
If you believe that a penalty notice has been wrongly issued to you as a result of a leave of absence, you should raise this with the school in the first instance.
If a penalty notice is not withdrawn and you do not pay it, you will be liable to prosecution for the offence that your child has failed to attend school regularly.
There is no statutory right of appeal once a Penalty Notice has been issued.
Children Missing Education
Sefton Council recognise that poor school attendance can be both a cause and a symptom of more complex problems in the lives of children and young people. Where this is believed to be the case, individual school staff and targeted services will work with the family to understand the barriers to accessing education and offer support to overcome them.
However, in some cases the child and family may need support from a number of different agencies to meet their needs, and this support can be co-ordinated through an Early Help assessment.
Sefton offers schools additional attendance support through traded services. Information about this is available through Traded Services. https://www.seftoneducation.uk/
In Sefton, we strive to successfully return children to school and uphold the rights of children to access their education. Where additional needs or barriers have been identified, Sefton will always offer advice on support, and will only consider pursuing legal action as a last resort. However, statutory action can and will be taken against parents where necessary, and there is an expectation from government that we will use the legislation available to pursue this.
Unregistered schools and out of school settings
Over recent years across the UK, there has been a rise in the number of institutions operating as schools which should be registered. Operating an unregistered school is a criminal offence and Sefton Council is working together with the DfE, Ofsted and other organisations to help ensure children receive a suitable education in the correct environment.
What makes a school unregistered?
A school must be registered with Ofsted if it offers full–time education and:
- Has five or more pupils of compulsory school age
- Is independent
- Has one or more pupils with an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP), previously known as a statement of special educational needs
- Has one or more pupils who are looked after (within the meaning of section 22 of the Children Act 1989).
If a setting is operating as a school and is not registered as a school it is illegal and children may be at risk.
What is the risk of attending an unregistered school?
Schools that are unregistered do not have to comply with the same rules and regulations that registered schools do. These rules and regulations exist to keep children safe, offer the best learning environment possible and keep educational standards as high as possible.
Parents and guardians who send children to unregistered schools may:
- Be putting children at risk of harm
- Be denying them a suitable education
- Be limiting their life chances.
How is the issue of unregistered schools being tackled?
Ofsted has a dedicated team of inspectors to identify, investigate and collect evidence about potential unregistered independent schools. Ofsted has the power to inspect suspected unregistered schools.
Between January 2016 and 31 March 2020, Ofsted’s Unregistered Schools team investigated 694 settings suspected of operating as an unregistered school. 345 inspections took place and 95 warning notices were issued. This led to 79 settings either being closed or to cease operating illegally. Some people found to be running an unregistered school have been prosecuted.
How can I help?
If you are aware of an unregistered school or believe there is a possibility a setting may be operating as a school, then please contact: Welfare.firstname.lastname@example.org
We can then ensure that the necessary checks are undertaken to establish whether the setting is operating in a way that requires it to register as a school.
If your query is urgent, please contact the Tracy McKeating on 0151 934 3359.