A SOUTHAMPTON councillor says it is vital to "re-engage" schoolchildren after a year of uncertainty.

As previously reported, a record low number of fines were issued to city parents after their children missed school last year.

But this is data that should be taken with a pinch of salt, according to Cllr James Baillie.

"The difficult circumstances of the last two years have meant varying rates of pupil absence," he explained.

"Penalty notices are requested by schools and issued by the local authority, due to the challenges our schools have faced and the government disapplication notice we understandably saw a decrease in requests.

"Schools were focused on reengaging children and parents who had unauthorised absences to ensure they attended school during term time and engaged with face-to- face education."

Looking to the future, he added: "Given the disruption and missed periods of face-to-face education over the past two years it’s even more important for schools to focus on reengaging and working with pupils and their families to minimise disruption to their education.

"We will provide schools with any support needed next term to ensure they are able to be safely open for pupils and support any decisions made by headteachers to minimize unauthorised absences including issues penalty notices where necessary."

Department for Education data shows that 91 penalty notices were issued to Southampton parents for a child’s poor attendance in 2020-21 – though measures did not apply for two months when schools were not open to all pupils.

Though no figures were available for 2019-20 because of the pandemic, the number of fines last year was down ​95% from 1,982 in 2018-19, and at the lowest level since comparable records began in 2009-10.

However, the same data shows that 946 penalty notices were issued to Hampshire parents for a child’s poor attendance in 2020-21.

The county council issued more fines than almost any other local authority in the country – accounting for 2% of all penalty notices handed out across England.