Parents warned over term-time holidays

MORE than 100 fines and nearly 1,000 warning letters have been issued to parents in Suffolk whose children have played truant in just a six-month period, it can be revealed.

Danielle Nuttall

MORE than 100 fines and nearly 1,000 warning letters have been issued to parents in Suffolk whose children have played truant in just a six-month period, it can be revealed.

Local authorities were handed new powers from September last year to hit parents in the pocket for their child's unauthorised absence from school.

Since then, Suffolk County Council has issued 109 fixed penalty notices to parents whose children persistently play truant.

In addition, the authority handed out 943 warning letters before resorting to a fixed penalty notice - 558 of which were as a result of a child taking an unauthorised holiday during term time.

National charity Parentline Plus last night condemned the use of £50 fines to tackle truancy and said parents “panicked” by threatening letters were not being given the support they need.

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Meanwhile, education bosses say it is too early to say whether fixed penalty notices are becoming a major deterrent - but some schools are already reporting positive feedback.

Rosalind Turner, the council's director for children and young people, said: “The majority of parents respond positively to letters advising them of the need for regular attendance, but some need further persuasion.

“It is too early to say whether this additional measure is having a major impact, but some schools tell us that it is definitely having a positive effect.

“It is vital that parents realise the importance of regular attendance to their children's long term development.”

But Parentline Plus insisted last night punitive measures do not work and only add to a parent's anxieties.

A spokeswoman for the charity said: “We know from our research that there are many complex issues around why children play truant, and parents panicked by fines and the threat of imprisonment are not being given the skills and support they need to stop their children truanting.

“We believe that until resources are put into early preventative work with families which aim to tackle the underlying causes of truancy, then some children will continue to opt out of school and education. “The costs of prison would be better spent on this essential early intervention work.”

Fixed penalty notices can be issued after a pupil has taken unauthorised holiday during term-time, if a pupil is stopped during a “truancy sweep” and the absence is unauthorised, and if a pupil has missed at least 10 sessions - the equivalent of five school days - due to truancy.

However, a penalty notice will only be considered when a pupil has lost a minimum of five school days.

The county council first issues parents or carers with a formal written warning of the intention to issue a penalty notice.

Parents then have 15 days to improve their child's attendance during which time a child must have no unauthorised absence.

However, if a child is caught skipping school during a truancy sweep - when they are stopped with their parents in public during a normal school day - immediate action can be taken.

The fine is £50 if paid within 28 days but doubles to £100 after this time.

If a fixed penalty notice is not paid within 42 days, local authorities are required to begin court proceedings in the magistrates' court which could lead to a £1,000 fine.

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