Should parents be fined for taking their children out of school during term time?

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Suffolk’s education chiefs stand by their firm stance over term-time holidays, despite claims from some MPs that it is unfair.

New figures show that the number of parents in the county taken to court for their child not attending school has doubled in the last two years to more than 300. The number fined has soared from 256 to 2,736 in the same period.

This week, MPs debated term-time holiday bans after 120,000 people signed a petition calling on the Government to act amid growing anger over the move introduced in September 2013 to improve standards of attainment.

Headteachers can now only permit term time absences in “exceptional circumstances”. Previously, they were able to grant pupils absence for up to 10 days a year for family

holidays in “special circumstances”.

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Backbench Conservative Steve Double said the policy is “blatantly unfair” and argued poor households struggle to pay for expensive summer holidays.

Other MPs said there is confusion among headteachers over what is meant by “exceptional circumstances”.

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But last night, Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills at Suffolk County Council (SCC), said the authority will continue to crack down on parents who fail to ensure their children attend school regularly.

She said: “Ensuring children attend school during term time is imperative in raising attainment.

“We take the issue of children failing to attend school regularly very seriously and this rise in the number of Fixed Penalty Notices issued by schools has been effective as we have seen significantly fewer absences.

“The council is working in partnership with schools to support them in both increasing school attendance and in raising the attainment for all children in Suffolk.”

Her comments came after new SCC figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws revealed the number of parents convicted for failing to ensure their child attended school in Suffolk rose from 149 in 2012/13 to 309 in 2014/15. In June, this newspaper reported how the number of Fixed Penalty Notices rose from 256 to 2,736 in the same period.

Opponents to the ban, including the Local Government Association, have previously called on the Government to use “common sense” instead of issuing blanket fines to parents for holiday absences.

Those flouting the rules can be fined £60, if paid within 21 days, doubling to £120 within 28 days.

Graham White, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the NUT, said: “Some absences are unavoidable, but term time holidays are avoidable and damage pupils’ education. We accept that holidays are more expensive during holiday periods (but) teachers have no option but to take their holiday during the designated holiday periods. We should have one rule that applies to all.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “It is a myth that missing school even for a short time is harmless to a child’s education. Evidence shows missing the equivalent of one week a year from school can mean a child is significantly less likely to achieve good GCSE grades.”

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