Term-time holiday fines 'need common sense approach'

family on holiday Image copyright Tomwang112
Image caption Parents can be fined for taking children out of lessons for holidays

A "common sense approach" should be applied to parents in England taking children out of school for holidays, the Local Government Association says.

Strict new rules on term-time holidays - including fines - were introduced two years ago to crack down on absence.

But the LGA says the system is unworkable and is calling for change.

The call follows a case last week in which a father avoided prosecution for refusing to pay a fine for taking his child out of school for a holiday.

Guidelines brought in by the Department for Education (DfE) in September 2013 require head teachers to take a harder line on requests for absence.

Previously, heads were able to grant 10 days' leave in "exceptional circumstances", meaning that many schools could allow up to two weeks of term-time holidays a year, but the stricter rules mean a holiday cannot be classed as an exceptional circumstance.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The government says even a short break can affect a child's education

If an absence is not authorised, parents who take their children out of school during term time are reported to their local authorities who are obliged by government to fine a parent £60 per child - this rises to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days.

In extreme circumstances, those that fail to pay can face prosecution with a maximum fine of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.

The LGA says head teachers should be allowed to give reasonable consideration to term-time leave requests and is calling on the Department for Education (DfE) for a change in the rules.

Future of fines

The future of holiday fines was called into question last week, when a father won a court battle after refusing to pay a £120 fine for taking his six-year-old daughter out of school to go to Disney World, Florida.

The case against Jon Platt, 44, was thrown out at the Isle of Wight Magistrates' Court after he argued the law required parents to ensure their children attended school "regularly", and did not put restrictions on taking them on holidays in term time.

The LGA says families often struggle with the high cost of holidays out of term time.

It says a family of four heading to the Canary Islands this half term would pay about £2,000 more than if taking the same holiday the week before or week after half term, rising from £2,484 before half term, to £4,800 during and dropping to £2,523 after.

Image caption Jon Platt insisted his daughter's education did not suffer from the week-long family holiday in Florida

Roy Perry, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: "It is clear that the current system does not always favour families, especially those that are struggling to meet the demands of modern life or have unconventional work commitments.

"There has to be a sensible solution whereby every family has the option to spend time together when they choose to, without fear of prosecution from education authorities.

"The current rules tie families to set holiday periods. They make no allowances for what a family would class as a special occasion or takes into account a parent's work life."

Mr Perry said blanket bans were not working and fines were being successfully challenged in the courts under human rights laws.

"It is time for this situation to be reassessed to ensure we are not wasting time and money by enforcing what is considered by many to be a punitive and unfair system," he said.

"While councils fully support the DfE's stance on every child being in school every day, there are occasions when parental requests should be given individual consideration and a common sense approach applied."

'Life chances'

But a spokesman for the DfE said: "It is a myth that missing school even for a short time is harmless to a child's education.

"Our evidence shows missing the equivalent of just one week a year from school can mean a child is significantly less likely to achieve good GCSE grades, having a lasting effect on their life chances."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "There will be times when children have to miss school because of problems such as illness and family emergencies.

"Schools are very sympathetic in these cases and will help children catch up with work. However, term time holidays are not a valid reason to miss school."

A Freedom of Information request to councils by the Press Association found - across the 98 councils that responded - 86,010 fines had been issued in 2014-15 for pupil absence, either because of holiday or truancy.

This is up from 62,204 the year before and 32,512 in 2012-13.

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