‘Fines for school absences would be harsh’ - Stevenage Borough Council leader Sharon Taylor

SBC leader Sharon Taylor raised her concerns at a meeting of the county council's panel last Thursda

SBC leader Sharon Taylor raised her concerns at a meeting of the county council's panel last Thursday. Picture: SBC - Credit: Archant

Issuing fines for absent school pupils in September would be “harsh,” leader of Stevenage Borough Council Sharon Taylor has said.

Councillor Taylor raised her concerns about the prospect of issuing fines to parents at a meeting of the county council panel last Thursday, amid growing evidence that BAME parents are more likely to keep their children away from school.

Now, a leading Herts official has indicated that parents who choose to keep their children away from school in September may not face automatic fines.

As schools have started to reopen after lockdown, attendance has been voluntary, but from September attendance at school will be mandatory – and the government has previously said that parents who fail to ensure their children are in the classroom could be fined.

Cllr Taylor has suggested it would be “harsh to issue fines”, particularly in regards to concerns over the vulnerability of certain groups such as BAME communities, and those children with medical conditions.

She also asked about the mental health support that would be on offer in schools, and for a breakdown on current school attendance in different areas of the county.

In response, assistant director of education at the council Simon Newland, said: “In Hertfordshire we have always expected our schools to exercise discretion when looking to apply different forms of sanctions to parents and pupils who don’t go to school.”

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Mr Newland said that the “primary driver” in government guidance was to get all children back in to school from September, but acknowledged that the question of the impact of COVID-19 on BAME pupils was “a difficult one”.

He made reference to anecdotal evidence that in some areas of the county parents of children in BAME community had been “more reluctant” to send their children back to school.

Early reports suggest that more than 99 per cent of primary schools in Hertfordshire have been open for at least one of the Reception, Year 1 or Year 6 cohorts – which compares favourably to the national average, reported to be around 70 per cent.

Data reported to the panel also suggested that in June, 32 per cent of children in Reception were at school, 29 per cent in Year 1 and 42 per cent in Year 6.

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