Some fines for term-time holidays may be unfair, says AM

Two children playing on a beach

Some parents who have been fined for taking holidays in term-time may have been dealt with unfairly and unlawfully, an assembly member has claimed.

A letter from Petitions Committee chairman William Powell to the education minister said there was widespread confusion over the policy.

The committee is investigating after thousands of complaints from parents.

It comes as figures show the number of fines varies between councils.

A BBC Wales Freedom of Information request found Cardiff council issued 370 penalty notices between January and May.

During the same period, 10 other councils, including Monmouthshire which has not yet introduced fines, did not issue any.

Image caption The number of penalty notices issued to parents, by local authority area, for their children being out of school in term time

In his letter to Huw Lewis, Mr Powell said the committee was concerned many councils were incorrectly advising schools only to authorise term-time holidays in "exceptional" circumstances, with some asking head teachers not to authorise any at all.

Speaking on the issue, before the letter, Mr Powell said: "The relationship between parents and schools is absolutely crucial and I think it's potentially very damaging to have this rather aggressive approach being brought in.

"We need to have a degree more common sense."

The Welsh government has said parents do not have an "automatic right to withdraw pupils from school for a holiday and they must apply for permission in advance".

But it does give schools "discretionary power to authorise up to 10 days absence during a school year for family holidays during term time".

Image caption William Powell has called for "common sense" on the issue

Two campaign groups have drawn up petitions calling for children to be allowed term-time holidays. The largest petition, with 18,000 signatures, is from a group called Let Children in Wales Have a Family Holiday During Term-Time. The other petition has been drawn up by Pembrokeshire Parents Want a Say.

Campaigner Bethany Walpole-Wroe, from Llanybydder, Carmarthenshire, said many families could not afford to go away during school holidays.

"The prices more than double usually in July and August, so they either can't afford them or they can't get time off due to various circumstances," she said.

But the Welsh government said school attendance should come first.

Education Minister Huw Lewis said: "Prolonged absence from school really does damage the attainment prospects of young people and that's why I, and I think most parents, would put learning as a priority."

Head teachers' union National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) Cymru said while everything possible should be done to ensure children have the least amount of time out of school, it would not encourage its members to fine parents.

Campaigners will find out in the new year if the committee intends taking any action.

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