Defiant and cash-strapped parents in Leeds say they will ignore a new ‘zero tolerance’ crackdown on term-time family holidays - despite threats of stricter cash fines by the city’s education bosses.
Figures obtained by the YEP show that almost 140 parents in Leeds have already been issued with penalty fines between January and July this year for taking their children on holiday without authorisation from their school.
Those fines were issued before new, tougher legislation came into force this month, restricting a headteacher’s previous powers to grant 10 days’ discretionary leave.
There were 250,000 school sessions missed in Leeds’s primary, secondary and special schools because of unauthorised absences last year.
Of those absences, 163,000 – 65 per cent – were because of family holidays.
News of the crackdown has prompted a furious backlash, with many Leeds parents saying they would rather pay the £60 fines, because they are still cheaper than taking their children away during school holidays.
A headteachers’ union said schools are “sympathetic”, but stressed: “You can’t put a price on your child’s education”.
However one unrepentant mother of two told the YEP: “It makes economic sense”.
The mum, who asked not to be named, said the subject had been dominating conversation at the school gates, with many parents insisting they will still go away during school time due to “extortionate holiday costs” at other times. She added: “My neighbours, who both have jobs and have four children, have just gone to Spain for a week, but the £120 fine, which is £60 for each parent, is nothing compared to the £1,000 plus they have saved, by going a day after schools went back.”
Councillor Judith Blake, executive board member for children’s services in Leeds said: “We have always encouraged parents to think twice before booking holidays during term time.
“Whilst being sympathetic to parents, the importance of good attendance at school cannot be underestimated.”
Leeds already has a fines system in place for persistent unauthorised absences, but enforcement will now be stricter. For a penalty notice to be requested, a child must have been absent from school for five days in the same term or period of 12 weeks. Parents that are fined will also have less time to pay. The fines will be £60 per child per parent if paid within 21 days, £120 if paid before 28 days. Non-payers could be prosecuted.
Holidays are fine, but school must come first: See Education, page 26.