October 25 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, August 21, 2014
The number of fines issued to parents in Suffolk for allowing their children to miss school has risen by almost 500% in the last five years, it can be revealed.
Figures show 303 fines for unauthorised absences were handed out to parents between September and July, compared with just 61 in 2009/10.
The number of fines issued for taking children on holiday during term-time trebled in four years – from 15 in 2009/10 to 46 in 2012/13.
Data was not released for the last academic year, but it comes amid a controversial government crackdown designed to stop parents taking their children on cheaper family holidays outside of the traditional summer break.
Rules imposed by former education secretary Michael Gove last September ban parents from taking their children out of school unless the circumstances are “exceptional”. Previously, headteachers had the discretion to allow up to 10 days of authorised absence.
Those who ignore the ban face a £120 fine for each child. It is £60 if paid within 28 days. Those who refuse to pay face prosecution, three months in prison and a £2,500 fine.
According to the Suffolk County Council figures, released under Freedom of Information laws, one in every five fines in Suffolk was for children being taken on holiday during term-time.
The hardening of the stance against absenteeism was designed to stop families damaging their children’s education. But parent groups claim the stance is too draconian and leave families paying top prices for trips during the school holiday season. Others argue headteachers are applying them too strictly and insist no guidance has been given to schools on what “exceptional” means.
Schools are taking a tougher line because poor attendance records are marked down by inspectors.
Graham White, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers, said: “There are tremendous pressures on schools in terms of exam results and the league table, and some headteachers are being forced into putting parents through the courts with fines. That is not the way to resolve the situation. Parents should be educated, not punished. The fine system is not working and is discriminatory because it has a bigger impact on lower paid families.”
Lisa Chambers, Suffolk’s cabinet member for education and skills, said she understood it can sometimes seem “necessary or desirable” to take children out of school, adding: “We have an excellent education welfare service in Suffolk and our staff work hard with parents on the need to ensure their children are in school.
“Sometimes tough action is needed to enforce the point that a child’s education must always come first. If parents, teachers and headteachers combine their efforts in discouraging truancy, educational standards in Suffolk will improve.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have increased fines for truancy and encouraged schools to address the problem earlier, and are giving schools the flexibility to set their own term times to better suit pupils and parents.”