Why are you reducing the PA threshold?

Schools should start to intervene well before the PA threshold is reached, but there are some that do not take action until pupils’ absence is near the persistently absent threshold - this it too late. Lowering the threshold will ensure that schools take action sooner to prevent absence. 20 per cent may have been a reasonable figure to set as a threshold a few years ago when absence was higher but it is time to encourage schools to raise their game and be more ambitious about tackling absence.

 Why is the new threshold being applied retrospectively?

We think that it is important for schools to know where they are against the new threshold now so that they can plan for how they are going to improve their performance in the future. Equally, it is important for parents to see how well schools have actually performed against the measure we will be using. We will, for the time being, continue to publish figures on the old basis for comparison purposes.

 Will the Department be setting targets for the number of pupils who have 15 per cent absence?

No. The new threshold is a measure of performance not a target. We expect all schools to set themselves challenging and ambitious objectives to reduce absence; we do not believe this is a matter for central direction.

 As you will continue to publish figures based on the old threshold, can we continue to use that in our own planning?

No. It is for comparison purposes only. We think that the 20 per cent threshold is now too high and that schools should be intervening earlier and working harder to reduce all unnecessary and unjustified absence. They should be concerned about absence well before it gets to 20 per cent. Lowering the threshold is a signal of that and a signal that schools should be intervening earlier.

 How will Ofsted take account of the new threshold?

The new Ofsted framework allows for flexibility around the inspection of attendance and the individual circumstances of pupils with good reason to be off school will not effect the final judgement. For example, there are pupils who are off school for long periods of time for medical reasons and it is important that the government is not being seen to be heavy handed with these families going through difficult times. Nor should schools be penalised for the attendance of genuinely sick children.

Ofsted will continue to take into account the number of pupils over the ‘persistently absent’ threshold, but at the new level, when looking at a school’s performance on attendance.

 What if some pupils are absent from school with long term illness?

Of course there are pupils who are off school for long periods of time for medical reasons and it is important that the government is not being seen to be heavy handed with these families going through difficult times. Nor should schools be penalised for the attendance of genuinely sick children.

The new Ofsted framework allows for flexibility around the inspection of attendance and the individual circumstances of pupils with good reason to be off school will not effect the final judgement.

 Will changing the threshold put unfair pressure on special schools?

Although children in special schools often have additional complex and challenging circumstances such as medical, social or emotional problems, we expect them - as with all other schools - to do as much as possible to keep all unnecessary and unjustified absence to a minimum.

The new Ofsted framework allows for flexibility around the inspection of attendance and the individual circumstances of pupils with good reason to be off school will not effect the final judgement.

 What about the continued rise in truancy?

Truancy should not be confused with unauthorised absence, which includes lateness and term-time holidays which the school has not authorised. The rise in unauthorised absence over the last few years happened at the same time as schools took a tougher line on authorising absences. The Department’s focus is on reducing all forms of absence not just a small subset. The issue is not whether the pupil had permission to be absent; it is how much absence the pupil has. Schools need to continue to be strict about authorising absence only where it is necessary, but need also to tackle unauthorised absence.

 What about holidays in term time?

It is for schools to consider requests for holiday absence during term time. Each request can only be judged on a case-by-case basis taking into account individual circumstances, such as the child's attainment, attendance and ability to catch up on missed schooling and the proximity of key dates for tests and examinations. While leave of absence might be granted for a term time holiday, it is granted entirely at the head teacher's discretion, and is not a parental right.

Primary schools allow twice the amount of time off for holidays and for religious observance that secondary schools do. Although the number of days lost through agreed family holidays has been falling, the number of unauthorised family holidays has risen – especially in primary schools.

 Is prosecuting parents for their children’s non attendance too harsh?

Parents have a legal duty to ensure their compulsory school age child registered at a school attends regularly. Failure to do this is an offence under s444 of the Education Act 1996.

LAs can prosecute parents, however this should be a last resort, where they have considered all the factors in the case and the parent refuses to engage with the school/LA in addressing their child’s poor school attendance. If found guilty the parent can be fined or imprisoned.

 The non payment rate of penalty notices is high – why?

If parents don’t pay it is a matter for LAs to decide what to do either to withdraw the notice or prosecute.

The law provides limited grounds for LAs to withdraw penalty notices that are unpaid: where it was issued outside the terms of the LA local code of conduct, issued to the wrong person or contains material errors.

Penalty notices provide an alternative to prosecuting a parent under section 444 of the Education Act 1996 which can be a lengthy and costly process. Full payment enables the parent to discharge potential liability for conviction for that offence.

As parents retain their right not to pay the PN and to have their case heard in court it was never envisaged that payment rates would be at 100 per cent.