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Wales resumes fines for parents over low school attendance

PARENTS whose children have “persistent” low attendance at school are now more likely to be hit with fines.

The move comes after two years of more relaxed enforcement in Wales, when coronavirus caused widespread disruption in classrooms.

Truancy rules remained the same during that time – £60 fines for regular truancy were still an option – but the Welsh Government encouraged councils to adopt a softer stance.

This week, however, education minister Jeremy Miles said continued patterns of low attendance was a “growing challenge” and the current Covid situation meant Wales was “now at a stage where we can revert back to the previous policy” on fining the worst offenders.

He said fines should be used as a “last resort” and in “only the most extreme cases… when all efforts to engage with the family have been tried and failed”.

But the announcement has been met with some criticism. Laura Doel, the director of the National Association of Head Teachers in Wales (NAHT Cymru), said the use of fines was “controversial” and “the jury is still out on whether fining parents actually has the desired effect on attendance”. 

She urged schools to bring in support services for parents before turning to punitive measures.

“Our position remains that schools should work with parents to find out the reasons behind continual periods of absence before making any move to fine families,” she added.

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And research shows public opinion is also split when it comes to fines for low school attendance. While 56 per cent of people surveyed believed fines were effective, 37 per cent of people believed they were not.

A new report also pointed out there was no strong evidence that financial sanctions by themselves always have a positive effect on the behaviour of adults.

What is causing current rates of school absence?

The new Welsh Government report on school attendance noted students felt “sheer shock” when they returned to classrooms after long periods of lockdown and disruption.

“All learners reported that they had experienced a certain amount of disorientation and many felt more vulnerable,” the report found. “Learners reported that many learners had lost some of their basic social and study skills, including the ability to focus on study for an extended time.

“All this added to the stress and pressure they felt on returning to school and coping with academic work and a suddenly unfamiliar social environment.”

While Covid itself caused some students to miss school, the pandemic also worsened existing reasons for low attendance. This was especially true for families on lower incomes who have fewer financial and physical resources to draw on “to cope with difficult situations”.

Practical problems, such as not having equipment, internet access or a quiet place to learn may have made home-learning a “negative” experience and had the knock-on effect of making the return to school “more challenging” than for more advantaged pupils.

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