Essex: Rise in fines for parents taking children on term-time holidays. What do you think?
PUBLISHED: 08:41 25 August 2014 | UPDATED: 17:16 25 August 2014
The number of fines issued to parents for taking their children on holiday during school time has risen dramatically in north-east Essex since term-time vacations were banned last year, it can be revealed.
Figures obtained by the EADT suggest a controversial government crackdown designed to stop parents pulling their children out of classes and going on cheap holidays is failing in the region.
New 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, head teachers had the discretion to allow up to 10 days of authorised absence from school.
Each parent who ignores a ban faces a £120 fine for each child. It is £60 if paid within 28 days. Those who refuse to pay face prosecution, three months’ jail and a £2,500 fine.
In Colchester, only four fines were issued to parents for taking their children on holiday during term-time in 2009/10. It surged to 46 in 2013/14, figures released under Freedom of Information laws showed.
Over the same five-year period, it rose from three to 128 in Chelmsford and 14 to 38 in Braintree. In Tendring, it fell from 71 to 58, indicating the overhaul has worked on some parents.
In total, 702 fines were issued. If all were paid within 28 days, Essex County Council would have received £42,120.
The hardening of the Government’s stance against absenteeism was designed to stop families damaging their children’s education.
But it has been strongly criticised by parents groups. They claim they are too draconian, stop children attending family weddings and funerals, and leave families paying top prices for trips during the school holiday season.
Others argue head teachers are applying them too strictly, insisting no guidance has been given to schools on what “exceptional” should mean.
Meanwhile, schools are taking an increasingly tough line because poor attendance records are marked down by inspectors.
Jerry Glazier, who is on the National Union of Teacher’s (NUT) national executive and represents Essex, said it was “over the top” to fine parents.
He said: “It is important schools engage with parents in a constructive way to ensure they understand the importance of getting their children to attend school regularly.
“We recognise some parents find it difficult to have holidays other than in term time because of shift patterns and requirements from their employers. Schools ought to be able to be sensitive to that and judge each case on its own merits.”
Asked whether some head teachers apply the new legislation too strictly, he said: “I’m sympathetic to the enormous external pressures some are under. There needs to be greater flexibility.”
It comes after a number of high profile cases where parents have challenged the new ruling, including James and Dana Haymore, of Chelmsford, who declined to pay a fine for taking their son Toby to a family memorial service in America.
Their case has been taken on by Liberty which said “common sense must prevail”.
The couple denied failing to ensure a child attended school regularly at Colchester Magistrates’ Court. It is being treated as a test case and a trial is set to begin on November 10.
Essex County Council’s response: “Parents have a legal duty to ensure regular school attendance for their children who are registered at a school.
“We are committed to ensuring children receive a suitable education and issues penalty notices and uses legal processes where appropriate to achieve this aim.
“Where there is concern for a child’s attendance, schools will work with the family to address the cause of the absence.
“If this is not successful and the absences are not authorised by the school, the matter may be referred to the county council’s Education Welfare Service (EWS) which will arrange a meeting between the school and family. If the situation does not improve the EWS will escalate the matter as appropriate, which may include issuing a penalty notice, prosecution or education supervision order. “If a penalty notice is not paid within 28 days the EWS will proceed with prosecution which could result in a fine or three months imprisonment.
“The amendment in legislation in September 2013 made it clear that head teachers should not grant any leave of absence during term time unless there are exceptional circumstances.”
A Department for Education spokesman added: “We have increased fines for truancy and encouraged schools to address the problem earlier.
“Meanwhile we are giving schools the flexibility to set their own term times to better suit their pupils and parents, and head teachers can rightly grant term-time leave in exceptional circumstances.”
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