Penalty Notices and Every Day at School Counts: a statement from the Association for Education Welfare Management (AEWM)

The AEWM represents individuals who are working in positions of responsibility to improve pupil attendance in schools, services and local authorities throughout England. Those members have been facing huge operational difficulties since recent judgments involving 'the Isle of Wight' case.

The most important view of the AEWM is that every day's attendance at school is important to a child's well being. There is clear evidence that absence from school is linked to lower levels of attainment at school. Children are required to attend school on 190 days in a year of 365 days (Maintained schools are open 190 days in a year of 365 days and children are expected to attend each day unless there is a reason not to authorised by the school – Academies & independent schools can set their own school year) .

It is clear that the remaining days allow plenty of time for quality family based activities and holidays. Whilst it is true that there are real cost issues relating to holidays this should never be a consideration that allows a child to miss school. The AEWM welcomes the recent correspondence from Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools regarding the current position. We support the emphasis on every days attendance counting and the taking of additional steps necessary to secure children's attendance at school.

The AEWM, whilst respecting the judgment of the High Court, believes the thinking of the court is flawed and welcomes further appeal and / or change of policy and legislation that removes the current doubt and mixed messages following the judgment. We would suggest regular attendance at school is each and every day it is open for education.

The suggestion that 90% is acceptable may lead some young people not to aspire to 100%. Currently local authority officers have to take into account a range of factors including the particular circumstances of the case, a range of case law and now the Isle of Wight judgment in the consideration of taking legal action. We would encourage both schools and those engaged in improving and ensuring attendance to continue to take a tough stance on absence for holidays in term time and continue not to authorise the absence unless there are exceptional reasons.

We support the DfE advice not to repay paid penalty notices and we further welcome robust local authority actions to defend any appeals against Magistrates Court decisions. For the future, we are recommending a single national code of conduct on the issuing of penalty notices for absence from school. We believe that penalty notices could be a civil matter, not pursued in the criminal courts, allowing for the criminal court action route to be for more serious or repeat offenders.

The national code of conduct should be clear on definitions of absence and periods of absence that need to be considered. We also support the maintenance of flexibility for schools and local authorities to decide on the issuing of penalty notices that ensures that where absence is essential that can be authorised. In the meantime, we will continue to support, advise and share good practice amongst members of the AEWM in these difficult times. Our support to colleagues is based on our passionate belief in ensuring that children have full access to every day at school.

National Executive Committee AEWM