Parents could be fined thousands of pounds for taking their children on holiday during term time under a proposal currently being considered by Lancashire County Council.
The council is considering issuing fines of £1,000 per child, per parent for term-time holidays – meaning that a family with two parents and two children could face paying £4,000.
Currently, parents across the UK, including those in Lancashire, face a penalty of £120 per child for unauthorised term-time breaks.
The measure was revealed in a letter from a headteacher to parents 10 days ago. Sarah Richardson, headteacher of Balladen Community Primary School in Rossendale, wrote to parents that: “Holidays must not be taken during term time and government legislation prevents schools from granting leave of absence unless there are exceptional circumstances.
“Lancashire County Council are currently trialling a new system for dealing with unauthorised holidays and breaks during term time.
“This involves an increase in the financial penalty to parents of up to £1,000 per parent per child rather than the current fixed penalty notice of £120 per parent per child.
“This system is still at the pilot stage, but please be aware this may come in to effect at some stage.”
According to the most recent figures, in 2016-17, Lancashire County Council issued 6,876 fines to parents for unauthorised absences – one of the highest rates in the country.
One of the largest authorities in the country, Lancashire County council oversees the largest number of schools. It reports higher than average school attendance (95.7 per cent for the last academic year), but in an effort to increase that, one suggestion was to radically increase fines.
“We really believe that children going to school is incredibly important, and people were asked to think of ways to increase attendance – this was one option,” a spokesperson explained.
Councillor Susie Charles, cabinet member for children and schools, said: “School attendance is given high priority in Lancashire and rightly so, as every day counts in each pupil’s education. To make sure that all children and young people receive a good education, we are considering any possible action that could be taken in the future to reduce unauthorised absences. This is currently at a very early stage and there are no firm suggestions being considered at the moment.
“We will continue to encourage schools to work closely with parents to reduce unauthorised absences and our aim throughout is not to punish parents but to ensure that children and young people attend school and receive a good education. We firmly believe that children and young people’s success is linked to attendance and if children miss out on school, they miss out on learning.”
The suggestion comes after unauthorised absences in England reached a record high last year; around one in six children (16.9 per cent) missed school for a family holiday during the last academic year, an increase on the previous recorded figure of 14.7 per cent.
Since September 2013, under guidance from the Department of Education, children can only be taken out of school during term time in “exceptional circumstances”.
If they skip school during term time, parents face a £60 fine. That doubles to £120 if it is not paid within three weeks.
Those failing to pay face prosecution – and a fine of a maximum of £2,500 following prosecution, or up to three months in prison.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that parents who take their children out of school for term-time holidays can be prosecuted.
But as figures suggest that families can pay more than twice as much to go away during the school holidays as they would if they took off during term time, some parents seem to be willing to risk the fines.
Do parents have the right to take their children on holidays during term time? Or is it too disruptive to the school? Have your say in the comments box below.