Parents face fines if children miss too many school days

Parents have been threatened with fines of hundreds of pounds if their children miss too much school in a drastic move by a head teacher to improve GCSE results.

Fiona Pierson, principal of Colchester Academy in Essex, warned parents that they would be expected to make a “financial contribution” towards the cost of their child’s exam fees if they were absent for more than 20 days without reason. If they do not pay, the school may refuse to allow their child to enter the exam.

With average exam entry fees at about £65 per subject, a parent whose child’s attendance has fallen below the threshold may face a bill of £585 if they sit nine separate GCSEs.

It is the first example of a school threatening to withdraw pupils from exams or force parents to pay GCSE entry fees if their children are persistently absent.

Families whose children were unable to attend school for medical reasons or other exceptional circumstances will not have to pay the exam fees, provided that they offer evidence. All other parents would be liable to pay if their child’s attendance rate dropped below 90 per cent, equivalent to 20 days off.

“I will not be entering them for their exams without a financial contribution from you as a parent/carer,” Ms Pierson wrote. “At the moment, the average cost per subject entry is £65. I am sure you can appreciate the financial position of the public sector at present and I am not prepared to enter students for their exams and pay for this if there is not the commitment from the young person to attend the academy and the exams.”

According to the most recent figures published by the Department for Education, the school’s overall attendance rate is 94.1 per cent, slightly below the national average of 94.7 per cent.

Ms Pierson’s self-imposed deadline for improved attendance passed this month and she said that there had been an improvement of 1.1 percentage points, although some families still would be liable for the payments.

“I am extremely sympathetic to student needs and there are some who have an attendance figure below this 90 per cent mark who will not be asked for a financial contribution,” the principal said. “However, there is now a small minority of parents who will be approached. I have not received any resistance from parents. I think the approach has been measured.”

The academy was judged to require improvement in 2015, but Ofsted said that attendance had improved.

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