Surge in the number for Lancashire parents fined for taking their children out of school in term time
The number of parents fined for letting children take time off school during term-time in Lancashire has soared.
The penalty notices, handed out by councils on behalf of schools, raked in almost £500,000 during the last academic year, new research reveals.
Experts say families’ struggles to take holidays at times when all children are off, with term dates varying between schools, is likely to be a key factor in the rise.
In Blackpool, there were more than two fines a day issued in 2018/19. Resort parents were hit with the notices on 789 occasions – a 32 per cent increase on the previous year.
Meanwhile, Lancashire County Council (LCC) dished out 9,219 fines, up 19 per cent.
Income from the penalty notices was up even more at 40 per cent in Blackpool – where parents paid £28,980 – and 21 per cent across LCC schools, where they were worth £460,020.
The figures, uncovered by The Knowledge Academy, also show 899 of those cases –176 of them in Blackpool – ended up in court for non-payment.
Findings in Lancashire mirrored many other parts of the country, with only a handful of authorities seeing a fall in fines handed out to parents.
Cornwall and Stoke-on-Trent both saw the number of penalty notices issued rise by more than 100 per cent compared to the previous year.
Only three councils made more from fines than LCC in 2018/19, according to the data, although the council is frequently near the top of such lists due to the large number of schools in the county.
The council also bucked the trend with the number of cases going to court dropping from 1,156 in 2017/18 to 723 last year.
Andy Mellor, last year’s president of the National Association of Head Teachers, and a former Blackpool headteacher, said he had sympathy for parents – with short-sighted government policy-making partly to blame.
He said: “When you give schools more freedom to set their own holidays, parents can find themselves in a difficult situation.
“I am a big supporter of family holidays and I appreciate how hard it can be under the present system.
“However, I have also know cases where families take more than one holiday because they find it cheaper to do so, which poses another problem.
“It is a complicated picture, but government policy has certainly not helped.”
Joseph Scott, a spokesman for The Knowledge Academy, said: “The data we have received reveals a continuing issue with unauthorised absences in schooltime.
“And when it comes to the ‘why’ of such an issue, we believe there are a few reasons.
“Firstly, going away in the holidays in term-time can mean a hefty increase in price for families.
“This is often a persuading factor for parents to remove their child prematurely, a compromise which is worth the child missing a couple of potentially unimportant days of school.
“Differing rules and considerations per school can also be an issue.
“With a one rule for one and one for another, what is deemed as ‘unauthorised’ or ‘unacceptable’ can vary wildly between parents and schools, meaning the risk is easier to take and can be queried.“Finally, parents believe they shouldn’t be criminalised for such an action.
“On the basis of principle, especially for otherwise well-attending children, parents generally don’t agree that leaving a couple of days early or absence that genuinely can’t be avoided should not be legally penalised.”
Chairman of the Local Government Authority’s children and young people board, Coun Judith Blake said: “Ensuring every child has a good school attendance is of paramount concern for everyone working with children, including councils.
“Parents and carers have a legal responsibility to make sure children attend school regularly while schools will monitor attendance and raise any concerns with councils.
“If required, councils will support head teachers to take the appropriate action to address issues with pupil attendance, including fining parents for unauthorised absences.”
Diane Booth, Blackpool Council’s director of children’s services, said: “Our position in the first instance is early intervention.
“We work to maintain good relationships with parents and guardians to look at the reasons behind pupil absence and if there is anything we can do to support families.
“However, it’s vitally important that children attend school and we’ll use every tool at our disposal to ensure that happens.”
LCC was approached for comment.