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Rise in cash penalties for absent Chester pupils

Published date: 17 March 2014 |
Published by: Staff reporter
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THE number of fines handed to parents who take their children out of school for a holiday has increased by 319 per cent in the past year.

New figures released by Cheshire West and Chester Council show that since 2012 the number of fines given to parents for taking their children on holiday during term time, when flights and accommodation are much cheaper, has increased from 26 fines to 83 fines by the Autumn term, 2013.

The Department of Education tightened the rules in September, 2013 to make it harder for parents to take their children out of school during term time.

Headteachers can no longer approve up to 10 discretionary days of absence in special circumstances and can only grant days of absence in exceptional circumstances such as family funerals, which has led to a large rise in the number of fines parents have received for taking their children out of school.

The Department for Education says poor attendance at school has a hugely damaging effect on education and as a result there is a £60 fine per child missing from school per parent which can rise to £2,500 and a court appearance if it is not paid.

The Leader spoke to a number of parents about the issue and all felt the rules were too stringent.

One parent, who did not wish to be named, said: “If someone is taking their kids out all the time then it is fair but if it is once in a year then I don’t see a problem.

“Teachers get inset days which they can throw on us which costs us £30 a day each in child care. Does that not affect their education?

“If it is a pre-planned holiday then we can get any work for them in advance.

“They are just going to encourage people to lie and call in sick every day of their holiday. It’s not a very good example to set.”

A comparison of the Autumn Term in 2012, before the new rules came into effect, showed there were 26 fines handed to parents who took their children out of school during Autumn Term, 2012. This had risen to 83 fines by Autumn Term, 2013 in schools in West Cheshire.

Cllr Mark Stocks, executive member for children and young people, said the council understood the difficulties parents face when booking holidays but this shouldn’t come before a child’s education.

He said: “We fully appreciate the financial difficulties that some parents face when booking holidays, particularly during school holidays.

“This authority is dedicated to setting children up for their future careers by benefiting from an innovative and consistent education and attendance is vital to ensure this.

“We expect all schools in Cheshire West and Chester have introduced firm policies and stringent checks – in line with Government policy – to ensure there is a significant reduction in the number of absences being authorised by schools during term time.

“The new legislation will bring about increased attendance and improving standards in schools.”

The news on the increase in the number of parents being fined in and around Chester comes as ski operator MountainBase advertised that it would pay fines for parents who take their children away during term time.

The company, based in Bedford, sells skiing holidays in Morzine in the French Alps, and has advertised its controversial offer on Facebook

In its advert, the firm says: “Are Schools in the UK taking the PISTE! we think so? Especially with record snow levels across Morzine and yet more snow due to land in the next few days to provide excellent piste conditions.”

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