Bradford schools are “tearing their hair out” in attempts to get more children to consistently attend school, a union boss has warned.

It is more than a year since Bradford Council unveiled plans to toughen up on parents who fail to get their children into school during term time.

From April 1, 2023, the Council changed its approach to situations where families take two or more periods of unauthorised leave in a 12-month period.

It also applies to those who take four or more weeks of unauthorised absence. 

It gives the Council the option to start legal proceedings via the magistrates’ court, instead of issuing a penalty notice. 

It could land parents with a significantly higher fine - up to £2,500 per child, per parent - if found guilty, as well as a criminal record. 

In rare circumstances, magistrates can consider a custodial sentence for up to three months. 

Council trying to alter 'mentality' around school absence

Tom Bright, Bradford branch secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said attendance rates are still lower in Bradford district compared to the national average.

In previous years, 150,000 days of school have been lost to unauthorised absences.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: School pupils.

Mr Bright told the Telegraph & Argus: “Schools are focused on pupils attending. Every day lost is a lost day of education. They are pressured by the Government to get kids into school, but that’s absolutely right because we want children to be in school. There are league tables that people work to. There are posters in school encouraging children to attend. 

“It’s really difficult when you think that some parents are using it as a way of allowing children to avoid school. 

“The bigger picture is, if you were to take your family on holiday during school holidays it costs more than taking your family on holiday during term time. As parents are short of money they might reason they’re going to take their kids on holiday during term time because it’s cheaper. It means a child is missing education when they should be there. It’s that mentality that the Council are trying to alter. 

“It’s about sending a message to parents that being in school matters. When they come back they’ve got to play catch up. The teachers have to got to provide additional materials. It’s there for a purpose. That purpose is to prevent people abusing the ability to get out of school.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

“Taking children out of school disrupts their learning, disrupts their education, and increases the pressures on everyone in the school. Having a child in school and learning is the best place for them to be. If a child’s missing from my classroom for an appointment, that’s fine. The child is going to want to make up the time. If a child is missing my class because their parent has decided to take them away, that’s a problem. 

“The attendance figures in Bradford are improving but they are still below the national average. Schools are tearing their hair out. They’re really trying. 

“Parents are trying to get their child into school. Maybe it feels like punishment for a parent because they’re struggling to get their child into school but the parent needs to work with the school.

“Parents taking their children out of school for extended periods is a different problem to children choosing or desiring not to be in school. If for example a child is being bullied they could feign an illness just to get out of school.”

Last year, Dixons Trinity Academy principal Emma Steele and John Leese, education safeguarding service manager at Bradford Council, wrote to parents: “I have no wish to deprive families of an extended period of leave away from our school, but my first concern has to be the educational development of your child. 

“Requests for leave during term time are never taken lightly and we will always consider the social, emotional and cultural reasons for the leave, whether the leave is exceptional, as well as your child’s overall level of attendance, academic attainment and the impact any leave may have on your child’s learning during their time away. However, continued absence from school will have a detrimental impact on a child’s academic attainment.”

A similar letter from Beckfoot School’s headteacher Simon Wade and Mr Leese reads: “Absence due to unauthorised leave taken during term time is a significant issue for all Bradford schools. Children in Bradford are twice as likely to be absent due to unauthorised leave during term time than an average child in England, with absence due to unauthorised leave during term time representing the third highest reason for absence behind Illness and general unauthorised absence. In the 2021-2022 academic year, Bradford children missed almost 150,000 days of school due to unauthorised leave taken during term time."

The Telegraph & Argus approached Bradford Council for comment but did not receive one by the time of publication.