The number of parents being hit with fines for allowing their children to play truant from school is rising.
Education chiefs in Blackpool have launched a “zero tolerance” crackdown on school absenteeism, which has seen 58 penalty notices issued over the past seven months.
That compares to figures from September 2012 to March 2013, when 47 families were given penalty notices.
Town hall bosses say the crackdown in Blackpool is partly a response to parents taking their children out of school for holidays in term time. Headteachers have always been able to grant leave in certain circumstances,
including for holidays.
But the Government brought in new rules in September 2013 which reduced their discretion. Heads can now only authorise time off school in exceptional circumstances.
The threshold for penalty notices is 10 half-day sessions of unauthorised absence in one term, or 20 in two consecutive terms.
The fine is £60, if paid within 21 days, increasing to £120 if paid within 28 days. Money from fines is reinvested in the local authority’s education budget.
Coun Ivan Taylor, education chief at Blackpool Council, said: “The figures demonstrate to people this is not something we are messing about with. It is a serious issue and, if people don’t get their children into school without a really good reason, they will find themselves in court.
“Taking a family holiday in term-time, or children refusing to attend lessons, will not be accepted as an excuse for absence.”
But Avis Gilmore, North West regional secretary for the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said there was a difference between children playing truant and situations where parents take children out of school.
She said: “In terms of families taking children out of school to attend a family event or to go on holiday, we have very mixed feelings as it’s important that children are in school and receiving their education.
“However, there is a lot of value in children visiting other countries and cultures as well as being involved in family events.
“In terms of holidays, we believe the way forward is to reach agreement with travel companies so they don’t more than treble the prices.
“We need to have discussions with the Department of Education and the travel industry.”
Miss Gilmore said regular truancy was a different matter and needed to be tackled sensitively.
“Quite often, parents don’t know their child is off school.
“The family and the child might need additional support to ensure the young person gets the benefit of regular schooling.”