Nurture groups and parental engagement Evaluation article: How to improve parental engagement Landmark ruling on the Isle of Wight case: An opinion Free article: Children, school and part-time work Free article: Employability skills and Ofsted Free article: A-Z of codes - Applying the codes in practice Free article: The common inspection framework Personal development, behaviour and welfare A-Z of Codes 5: Codes M, N, O, P and R Free article: Infection control in schools Free article: Prosecution or penalty notice: Which is the correct response? Free article: Managing difficult conversations Free article: Parental engagement: working with hard-to-reach families Free article: A-Z of codes 1: marks for 'present' Free article: The use of penalty notices: the pros and cons Free article: Incentivising attendance - what really works Free article: Practical tips for transforming lateness into punctuality Free article: Best practice case study: Waldegrave School

Nurture groups and parental engagement

Nurture groups are a multi-dimensional group intervention with a whole-school focus, and running them successfully depends on a wide array of different factors. In thisarticle exploring nurture groups, Batul Al-Khatib…

Evaluation article: How to improve parental engagement

Parental engagement remains an area for improvement for most schools. Matt Bromley explores how to do it well.

Landmark ruling on the Isle of Wight case: An opinion

Ben Whitney gives his take on the recent Supreme Court ruling.

Free article: Children, school and part-time work

Ben Whitney enters the debate on the role of children in the workplace and discusses what help and regulation should exist to support them.

Free article: Employability skills and Ofsted

Under the new inspection framework, schools will be inspected on pupils' economic well-being – and that includes attendance rates. 

Free article: A-Z of codes - Applying the codes in practice

To conclude this series of reference guides, Ben Whitney reflects on some of the issues it has raised, both in correspondence and through questions by participants at Forum attendance conferences.

Free article: The common inspection framework Personal development, behaviour and welfare

A new common inspection framework is now in effect, and pupil attendance can be reviewed in terms of personal development, behaviour and welfare.

A-Z of Codes 5: Codes M, N, O, P and R

Continuing his series of handy reference guides, Ben Whitney explores each of the recommended Codes in detail, including:

Free article: Infection control in schools

Infections that cause diarrhoea, vomiting, common colds and flu are responsible for the loss of thousands of school days each year. Martin Hodgson gives guidance on what you need to…

Free article: Prosecution or penalty notice: Which is the correct response?

Ben Whitney looks at the circumstances that might dictate how schools and local authorities respond to cases of persistent absence.

Free article: Managing difficult conversations

Some conversations -whether with pupils, their parents or colleagues - are always going to be uncomfortable. In this article, Louise Wingrove looks at managing difficult subjects with care and confidence.

Free article: Parental engagement: working with hard-to-reach families

In this article, Professor Ken Reid explores some of the many options for families to play a larger part in school life, with potential benefits for both the children and…

Free article: A-Z of codes 1: marks for 'present'

In this series of handy reference guides, Ben Whitney explores each of the recommended Codes in detail.

Free article: The use of penalty notices: the pros and cons

Professor Ken Reid examines the use of penalty notices (PNs) since the Children Act 2006, including some discussion on recent developments in Wales and the issue of regional variations in…

Free article: Incentivising attendance - what really works

David Birch outlines the importance of reward systems as a means of improving attendance in schools. Read on to find out about the merits of commercial schemes and the essential…

Free article: Practical tips for transforming lateness into punctuality

Steve Baker provides some practical advice on how to tackle persistent lateness and develop school-wide policies to encourage, develop and maintain punctuality.

Free article: Best practice case study: Waldegrave School

Our reporter Helen Clark finds out how one outstanding school has just achieved its best-ever attendance figures.

Landmark ruling on the Isle of Wight case: An opinion

Published: Thursday, 06 April 2017

Ben Whitney gives his take on the recent Supreme Court ruling.

"This case is all about the meaning of the word “regularly” when describing the attendance of a child at school." Lady Hale.

Isle of Wight Council v Platt

So now we know.

‘Regular’ attendance at school means every single session the school is open, unless the headteacher has authorised the child to be absent. (That gives the parent an immediate defence).

Two key questions, however, remain:

  1. Under what circumstances is it reasonable for schools to allow some absence as ‘authorised’? It is not true that any absence will necessarily affect that child’s eventual outcomes. It depends on the underlying reasons.
  2. And when should local authorities take legal action if no authorisation has been given? They do not have to do it every time.

Lack of clarity

Things are really no clearer than when all this started. Each headteacher still has to decide. They have to know the law — many don’t — and apply it fairly. Each local authority still has to determine its own policy and threshold. This variation is what irritates many parents. It feels like a lottery. The Court accepted that schools can take different stances. Some LAs have issued thousands of penalty fines, some virtually none.

Alternative consequences

I am still of the view that the Government made a mistake in making prosecution the required response if the parent chooses not to pay. That dramatically raises the stakes, (though parents cannot be sent to prison, as some claim, if the action is under s.444(1)).

It has brought parents into the Court system whose children’s absence would never have been seen as sufficiently problematic in the past. This is what has caused the resentment, as much as the penalty fines themselves. Maybe some other consequence of non-payment would be more appropriate, but parents must have some right of appeal.

Avoiding conflict

Penalties may have been imposed unfairly, or when the ‘exceptional’ criteria have not been properly considered. There certainly seem to have been some examples which are wholly unreasonable.

I hope local authorities will now show restraint, as some always have, and not see the Supreme Court ruling as an excuse to go over the top. Legal action should only ever be the right thing to do in that particular set of circumstances. Any automatic process is bound to lead to anomalies. Schools and parents need to work together in the best interests of children. Conflict rarely makes things better.

What now?

No doubt more parents will now opt out of the school system to home educate, as they have every right to do. Those who can afford it will choose the private sector where LAs will leave them alone. Some may decide to take even more days off each time because they may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. Some may refuse to pay and hope to clog up the Magistrates Courts as a result. Most will pay up and go anyway.

None of this will necessarily improve the educational or other outcomes for children. That should be the only focus, not improving the figures for Ofsted or fining as many parents as possible, just because we can.

About the author

Ben Whitney is an independent education welfare consultant and trainer, with over 20 years’ experience in attendance management for two local authorities. He is the author of several books on both attendance and child protection. More information on his current training and consultancy services can be found at www.ben-whitney.org.uk.

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