'Big rise' in fines for parents over holiday absences

Children on beach in East Sussex The government has suggested staggering school terms across the country to try to spread demand for holidays

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The number of parents being fined for taking their child out of school for a holiday has risen dramatically, according to BBC research.

The study, by BBC One's Breakfast programme, suggests the number of fines issued has increased by more than 70%.

The 34 councils across England which responded said almost 5,300 fines had been imposed during the autumn term.

Last September the government introduced tougher regulations on term-time absence for holidays.

Parents in England and Wales have a legal responsibility to ensure their child attends school, unless they have opted to home-educate them.

If they fail to do so, they are committing an offence under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996.

Parents can put in requests for term-time holidays, but these are granted or refused entirely at the head teacher's discretion and are not a parental right.

The cost of a holiday is often lower during term time, with companies responding to higher demand by putting up prices during school breaks.

Heads in England were previously able to grant up to 10 days of leave a year for family holidays in "special circumstances".

But since 1 September 2013, they have no longer been able to grant any absence in term time except under "exceptional circumstances".

'Damaging effect'

The measures are part of a tougher approach to the issue, which has also left parents responsible for unauthorised absences more likely to be prosecuted and given less time to pay the fines.

Liverpool City Council has seen one of the biggest increases in the number of parents fined - up from 97 in the autumn term of 2012 to 250 in autumn 2013.

Ron Collinson, the council's head attendance officer, says the tougher measures have had a dramatic effect on raising attendance rates.

"We have the best figures for the autumn term that we've ever had," he said.

"Part of that improvement is certainly due to this particular piece of work."

He says he has sympathy for parents trying to cut the cost of their family holiday, but that the interests of the child have to come first.

"You save a lot of money, but you pay the cost at the other end in terms of your child's schooling."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Poor attendance at school can have a hugely damaging effect, and children who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are regularly absent.

Term dates

"That is why we have given schools more power to tackle poor attendance and allowed them to intervene much earlier.

"We are giving all schools the autonomy to set their own term dates", he added.

"We want to see more parents asking schools to consider changes to term and holiday dates that will work for pupils and their families."

BBC Breakfast made requests for information about parental fines to 76 of England's 152 local authorities. Of these, 34 answered the specific questions in a way that made a term-on-term comparison possible.

The programme found six of those councils had not fined any parents, two had seen a decrease in parents fined, and 26 reported an increase.

Overall, the average increase for the local authorities that responded was 74%.

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