More parents prosecuted for taking children out of school without permission
Rising numbers of parents are being prosecuted after their child missed school without permission, with many facing fines and in some cases community sentences or prison.
In 12 months, the number facing court action increased by more than a fifth, with almost 20,000 people taken to court in 2015 alone , statistics obtained by the Press Association show.
The number of prosecutions has been steadily rising since a major government crackdown on children missing school in 2013. The changes included tough new rules on term time holidays.
Ministers have repeatedly argued that every extra day of school a child misses can affect their GCSE results.
In total, 19,920 people in England were prosecuted in 2015 for failing to ensure that a child went to school - equivalent to around 105 cases for each day of the school year.
This is up 21% compared to 2014, when 16,430 faced prosecution, and a 61% rise on 2011, when 12,344 cases were heard by the courts.
The Ministry of Justice statistics, gathered by the Press Association through freedom of information requests, cover two truancy-related offences under the Education Act 1996.
Parents may be prosecuted for a number of reasons, for example a child repeatedly truanting from school.
An analysis of the data shows that of those taken to court in 2015 - the latest year for which figures are available - three in four (75%),14,890 people, were found guilty.
Of these, the vast majority (77%) were handed fines. The average penalty was £176, up from £172 in 2014 and £155 in 2011.
Eight people were handed jail terms while 553 were given community sentences.
Justine Roberts, chief executive of parenting website Mumsnet, said: "Mumsnet users are supportive of teachers who want to minimise absences and disruption, but at the moment even trips with genuine educational value risk being refused - and if an older child is truanting without their parents' knowledge, fines are unlikely to resolve the problem."
She said parents would like to see headteachers given more discretion over absences.
Parents who take a child out of school without permission, for any reason, can face a fine of £60, rising to £120 if it is not paid quickly. Those who do not pay can face prosecution.
The findings come on the day the Supreme Court is due to give a ruling in a landmark legal battle between education chiefs and a father who took his daughter on holiday in term-time without her headteacher's permission.
The judges are ruling on an appeal by Isle of Wight Council in a case involving Jon Platt, who took his daughter on a seven-day family trip to Disney World in Florida in April 2015.
The council prosecuted Mr Platt after he refused to pay a £120 penalty. Local magistrates found there was no case to answer, and the council took its case to the High Court in London, where two judges upheld the decision.
Speaking ahead of the judgment, Mr Platt said that if the Supreme Court rules in favour of the argument put forward by education bosses, it " means that regularly attending school means attending every day, whenever the school demands it, 100% attendance".
"That will criminalise 6-7 million parents," he said. "Being one minute late will be a criminal offence."
Mr Platt added: "It's absurd to criminalise parents for children being late to school."
At a Supreme Court hearing in January, the local authority, backed by the Education Secretary, argued a child's unauthorised absence from school ''for even a single day, or even half a day'' can amount to a criminal offence.
But a QC for Mr Platt described the submission as a new and radical interpretation of the law which was absurd and would ''criminalise parents on an unprecedented scale''.
Around a million schoolchildren missed lessons last year after taking family holidays during term time, according to Government figures published last month.
In total, about one in six pupils in England took at least a half day off for a trip in the 2015/16 academic year - with the vast majority doing so without getting permission from the headteacher.
Overall, 1.1% of half-days were missed in primary, secondary and special schools due to unauthorised absence, with pupils skipping lessons without permission for a variety of reasons.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Our position remains that children should not be taken out of school without good reason. That is why we have tightened the rules and are supporting schools and local authorities to use their powers to tackle unauthorised absence."