HEADTEACHERS should be allowed to follow a ‘common sense’ approach to allow parents to take children out of school during term-time without being hit with an automatic fine, according to council leaders.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils, is calling for the removal of a blanket ban that prevents parents taking children out of school for holidays during term-time.
Since September Leeds Council has issued 1,534 fines for unauthorised absences from school.
The LGA is warning that under the current rules, parents looking to go abroad during school holidays can find they are hit with costs more than double that of travelling during term-time, with holiday companies ratcheting up prices in school holidays to such an extent that prices for a family of four can be thousands of pounds higher than during term-time.
Currently, if an absence is not authorised, local authorities have an obligation to instigate a fine and enforce legal proceedings on behalf of schools.
This means parents who take children out of school during term-time can receive a penalty notice of £60 per child per parent that rises to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Those who fail to pay could face prosecution and a maximum fine of £2,500 or a jail of up to three months.
The LGA is calling for it to be at the discretion of headteachers to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Councillor David Simmonds, of the LGA, said: “An outright ban is too simplistic, and doesn’t recognise that family life and circumstances aren’t always so black and white.”
In Leeds, the council has already notified parents that fines won’t be issued for absences of five days or fewer per term in a decision which is legal under the new code.
Senior Councillor Judith Blake said only absences “in the most exceptional of circumstances can be authorised by the school.”
“Since national legislation changed in September 2013 it is clear that absence from school due to holidays is breaking the law and head teachers are not allowed to condone it.”
The council favoured giving heads “a degree of discretion concerning these exceptional circumstances,” she said.