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Number of parents prosecuted over unauthorised school absence soars

Published 07/07/2016

More than 150,000 fines were issued to mothers and fathers in 2014/15 for unauthorised absence
More than 150,000 fines were issued to mothers and fathers in 2014/15 for unauthorised absence

The number of parents taken to court due to their child skipping school has almost doubled in the last five years, according to official figures.

Government statistics also reveal that more than 150,000 fines were issued to mothers and fathers in 2014/15 for unauthorised absence - more than quadruple the numbers in 2010/11.

The figures come amid a continuing row over parents' rights to take their children out of school during term time.

The latest data, published by the Department for Education, shows that councils in England made 21,533 prosecutions during the last academic year (2014/15) - up more than a quarter on the year before when there were 16,959 and up from 11,539 five years ago.

There were 151,125 fines handed out in 2014/15, an increase of around 363% on 2010/11 when 32,641 penalty notices for unauthorised absence were issued.

Of the fines issued last year, 108,024 were paid within 21 days, a penalty of £60. This suggests that about £6.5 million was collected from these notices alone.

The hike in fines and prosecutions comes amid a clampdown by Government on children being taken out of lessons - for example for term-time holidays - without permission from the school.

A DfE spokesman said: "The rules are perfectly clear - 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.

"The evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil's chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances - vindicating our strong stance on attendance. A child who is absent also impacts teachers, whose planning of lessons is disrupted by children missing large portions of teaching."

Mumsnet chief executive Justine Roberts said: ''Mumsnet users broadly sympathise with schools, who are caught between parents and Ofsted when it comes to term-time absences.

"Missing lots of school has a negative impact on children's learning, and is disruptive for teachers as well. However, the new rules mean that even very short trips with genuine educational value, or for really important family events, are being refused - or the parents fined.

"It might be nice to return to a time when head teachers had more discretion, but of course this would mean parents would need to act responsibly too and only seek permission for really crucial events."

The latest figures come the week after Isle of Wight Council confirmed it is to ask the Supreme Court for permission to appeal against a High Court judgment in favour of a father who was fined for taking his daughter on holiday during term time.

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