In 2013, Kent LEA issued 3,994 penalty notices for parents of children with poor school attendance. In the same year, Thurrock reportedly issued none. Likewise, Warrington, Buckinghamshire, Sunderland, Rotherham and Southwark apparently didn’t write up a single parent for their child’s persistent absence. Though those areas are smaller in size than Kent it doesn’t account for such an enormous discrepancy.
On the upside, Kent managed to get half of its penalty notices paid within 42 days. In Middlesborough and the Wirral, 83% of issued notices went unpaid. With Worcestershire and Newham trailing not far behind that.
So how does your local area compare? Click an area to see the percentage of unpaid penalty notices and the total number issued. Darker shades of red indicate higher numbers of unpaid penalties.
Where is the data from?
The data in the map is taken from the first release of ‘parental responsibility’ data by the Department for Education. It’s a weird data set. Local education authorities self-report the numbers and there are several inconsistencies.
Though the number of penalties issued and were paid is straightforwardly reported in the dataset, the number of unpaid notices seemed odd. For example, some areas that had issued a high number of notices but only received a 20-30% return rate were nevertheless saying they had 0 unpaid notices.
After some investigation it became clear that LEAs often use a discretionary power to ‘withdraw’ penalty notices if they are issued to the wrong person, issued outside of agreed terms, or simply because the LEA ‘does not wish to bring charges’ (yup, it’s that vague).
The amount of times an LEA used these powers is documented in the data. However, LEAs don’t always treat these ‘withdrawn’ penalties consistently when it comes to the ‘unpaid’ categorisation. Some LEAs include them in the ‘unpaid’ numbers, others didn’t (effectively treating them as if they were ‘cancelled’). In my head, however, if you’ve sent out a penalty notice and it hasn’t been paid, for whatever reason, then that’s still indicative of a problem. Hence, the map’s “% unpaid” is based on the total number of penalties unpaid regardless of reason, and was calculated from the figures for total number of notices and the number paid at 42 days, rather than the LEAs ‘unpaid’ total.
Why are some LEAs giving out penalty notices at much higher rates than others?
It’s a good question, and not one I know the answer to. But raises a question about vast inconsistencies in the treatment of parents across the country. As local education authorities gradually move from being the main operators of schools, it’s these sorts of regulatory roles in which they could really shine. But many will need to polish their processes quite hard in order to get there.
NB: A thing. Cornwall issued a sole penalty notice and it went unpaid. I felt a bit mean making Cornwall be dark red over one unpaid bill so I took it out of the sample. Hence, Cornwall is uncoloured because I am compassionate, not because I hate Cornish people.