QUESTIONS have been raised about the effectiveness of school fines for unauthorised absence after six parents of children at Andover secondary schools appeared in court on the same day.

The six parents of four children attending Harrow Way Community School and Winton Community Academy all appeared in Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court recently charged with being parents of children who failed to attend school regularly.

With each set of parents being given sentences ranging from absolute discharge to fines of nearly £400 per couple, it raises the question of how effective the school fines system is at improving attendance rates and whether it criminalises more disadvantaged parents.

Labour Andover town councillor Andy Fitchet said: “If I can recall correctly school fines were brought in under a Labour government and it wasn’t one of our best polices.

“I don’t believe it works or is an effective way of incentivising parents by punishing them for not sending their child to school.

Cllr Fitchet continued: “If young people are absent from school for whatever reason, fining parents doesn’t seem to lead to greater attendance and for poorer parents this is driving them into further poverty. We should be trying to help parents and young people to see the value in education rather than punishing them.”

Former Ukip county councillor for Andover North, Tim Rolt, agrees that the system of fines is not effective.

He said: “It would seem that poorer parents suffer the most but the key here seems to be how the pricing of holidays at peak times can be influenced in order to allow all families the chance of a reasonably priced holiday abroad. In Finland, as in Sweden, their equivalents of half-term breaks tend to be staggered between different districts much more than the differences in this country.

“If the standard UK half-term of one week could be taken somewhere in a three week window then there would be less scope for prices to sky-rocket during half-term.”

Under the current system, if a child has unauthorised absence from 10 registration sessions - five school days - in 100 school sessions then each parent is issued with a £60 fine. If that fine remains unpaid then criminal charges are pursued.

Of the six parents who appeared in court recently - who cannot be named for legal reasons - one couple were absolutely discharged meaning that they have a criminal record but were spared any further financial punishment.

One Harrow Way parent was fined £40 and ordered to pay a £20 victim surcharge and £50 court costs while another was fined £180 plus a £20 victim surcharge and £200 costs.

Another set of Harrow Way parents were fined £390 between them, one parent £290 and the other £100, with each being ordered to pay victim surcharges of £20 and £29 and £50 costs each - a total of £539 for the family.

Hampshire County Council, who issue the fines and instigate legal proceedings, have confirmed that no policy changes have been made in recent months and it was coincidence rather than a crackdown that led to so many parents appearing in court on one day.

Councillor Peter Edgar HCC’s executive member for education, said: “Magistrates and judges decide what sentence to impose on people that they find guilty of the offence. In sentencing, they have to take a number of factors into account including: the facts of the case; sentencing guidelines; and the circumstances of the defendant, including the defendant’s income.”

Michael Serridge, headteacher of Harrow Way and Nathan Thomas, head of Winton, confirmed that they follow the council’s unauthorised absence policy and agree that the fines are effective.

Do you think school fines are effective? Have you been taken to court for failing to send a child to school regularly? We would like to hear your thoughts, email