LGA calls to end term-time holiday fine policy

Local authorities are calling for a new policy that allows head teachers to be able to approve pupils taking family holidays in term time. The move would would ultimately end the current policy which has seen a significant rise in the number of parents being fined for unauthorised absences.

LGA represents 370 councils and boroughs across the country and wants the Department for Education (DfE) to alter the regulations introduced two years ago.

According to the latest official statistics, the policy has seen a drop in the number of state school pupils taking authorised holidays in ‘exceptional circumstances’. However, the proportion of pupils taking unauthorised holidays has not changed remarkably.

Roy Perry, chair of the LGA’s children and young people committee, said: “Children’s education is treated with the upmost seriousness but it is clear that the current system does not always favour families, especially those that are struggling to meet the demands of modern life or have unconventional work commitments.

“There has to be a sensible solution whereby every family has the option to spend time together when they choose to, without fear of prosecution from education authorities.”

Under the current regulations, schools in England no longer have the latitude to approve term-time holidays apart from in ‘exceptional cases’, which has subsequently led to a surge in parents being fined and prosecuted for unauthorised absences.

Parents can face fines of £60 per child, for unauthorised absences, which rises to £120 if unpaid after three weeks. In addition, courts have authority to issue fines of up to £2,500 or jail sentences of up to three months if the case is particularly severe.

The DfE defended measures on the basis that evidence suggested missing the equivalent of just one week a year from school can damage a pupil’s life chances and reduce their chances of succeeding at school.

The LGA chair said: “The current rules tie families to set holiday periods. They make no allowances for what a family would class as a special occasion or takes into account a parent’s work life.”

Before 2013, authorised family holidays accounted for between five - six per cent pupil absences. Since the introduction of the fine regulations, the proportion has dropped to 1.2 per cent. While the proportion of unauthorised absences has fallen, the percentage of unauthorised holiday absences has risen, from 3.2 per cent to 4.4 per cent.

A total of 32.7 million pupil school days were missed due to unauthorised absences in 2012-13. This has decreased to 28.6 million absences in 2014-15.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb praised the latest figures as evidence that the government’s policies on pupil absence were making ‘real progress’.

He said: “We took action to reduce absence in 2010 by taking a tougher approach to children regularly missing lessons and by increasing fines.”

He added: “Together with our reforms to improve behaviour and plans to crack down on truancy by deducting the cost of unpaid fines from child benefit, we have put heads and teachers firmly back in charge of their classrooms so they can extend opportunity and give the pupils the best start to life.”

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