The Department for Education (DfE) said:
“Unauthorised family holiday absence” was the most common reason for attendance fines'”
Councils can require parents to pay £60 each, per child taken out of school without permission. This rises to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Parents can be prosecuted after 28 days.
260,877 penalty notices for unauthorised absence from school were issued in 2017-2018. Just over one in 10 was withdrawn.
Prosecutions in England in 2017-18, for non-payment of the fines, went up from 13,324 the year before to 19,518.
One parent from the Isle of Wight, who was fined after taking his daughter on holiday during term time, challenged his fine in the courts. In 2017 he lost his case in the Supreme Court. He said he felt “partly responsible” for fines increasing in the past year.
He continued, since the ruling the law had become “harsher and stricter”.
“There is clarity [on the law] but it’s a draconian clarity,” he said.
“It’s disappointing to see that where there were tens of thousands of parents being fined, it’s now hundreds of thousands.”
He has now put his children into private education, exempting himself from further fines from the council.
“I would very much like the government to look at this again, but I don’t think they will,” he added.
In a report accompanying the statistics, the DfE said it had contacted councils following the court case.
It said all six that responded said the Supreme Court judgement in this case “had an effect on the number of penalty notices issued in 2017-18, either as a result of returning to pre-court case levels following a slowdown or from a change in behaviour as a result of the ruling.”
Fines should be used only as a “last resort.”
- The Campaign for Real Education said fines should be used as a “last resort”.
Its chairman, retired headteacher Chris McGovern, said taking a child out of school for a “cheap holiday” could be a “remarkably selfish action. Term time holidays were disruptive to the absent student and the rest of the class.”
“Teachers are distracted from their regular teaching by having to help the absentees to catch up.”
He added term-time holidays were mostly “for the benefit of the parents, rather than the children”.
Are the fines excessive?
One parent, however, said she budgets for the cost of fines when planning a trip because it was still cheaper than paying full price during the school break.
The 37-year-old, who works with her husband in childcare, said prices “double” after term finishes.
She says this has an additional cost because there is more work available for her during school holidays.
“We never take them out near exam periods,” she said. “We can’t see how going away once a year hurts.”
So, what are the rules for taking children out in term time?
The general premise is that parents are responsible for ensuring their children receive an education.
They can be found guilty of an offence if their child “fails to attend regularly“ at the school where they are registered.
In September 2013 the government changed the law so head teachers could only grant a leave of absence to pupils during term time in “exceptional circumstances”.
Penalties can be issued to parents who fail to make their child regularly attend the school they are registered at. This applies to children, aged five to fifteen at the start of the academic year.
Schools in Wales are allowed to grant pupils up to 10 days absence for a family holiday during term time.
In Scotland, there are no fines but the government says schools will not normally give a family permission to take pupils out of school for trips.
In Northern Ireland term time holidays are considered unauthorised absences, but there are no fines.
Majority of fines issued for unauthorised family holidays.
Penalty notices given to parents In the 2017-18 academic year family holidays accounted for 85% of fines issued, but fines were also issued for pupils arriving late to school.
Parents in the Isle of Wight were fined the most. Money from penalty notices was used to cover the costs of administering and enforcing the fines scheme, said the Council.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said:
children should miss “as little time at school as possible”.
However, a spokesman said the current system of fines was “clearly too blunt an instrument” which “drives a wedge between schools and families”.
The association added the “real problem” was holiday prices, putting families “between a rock and a hard place”.
A spokesman for DfE said children should not be taken out of school “without good reason”.
“We have put head teachers back in control by supporting them – and local authorities – to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence.”