THE number of Leeds parents handed fines for their children’s unauthorised absence from school has gone up FIVEFOLD since a new ‘zero tolerance’ approach on term-time family holidays was introduced.
Figures obtained by the YEP show the new tougher stance is being applied by schools – but for many parents trying to avoid higher travel costs during normal school holidays, it has not been a deterrent.
Between September 1 and December 10 last year, 162 penalty notices were issued to Leeds parents, compared to just 33 in the same time period the previous year.
Education bosses in Leeds say they “do not have a choice” on issuing fines, as the tough approach is dictated by Government. But they stress that “while sympathetic to parents, the importance of good attendance cannot be underestimated”.
The new, tougher legislation came into force in September, restricting a headteacher’s previous powers to grant 10 days’ discretionary leave.
There were 250,000 school sessions missed in Leeds’ schools because of unauthorised absences in 2012. Of those absences, 163,000 – 65 per cent – were because of family holidays. Councillor Judith Blake, Leeds City Council’s executive board member for children’s services, said: “Schools must challenge any unauthorised absence, so I would encourage parents to talk to schools as early as possible if they are planning to make a request to take children out of school.”
“We, the local authority, schools and parents, do not have a choice in the matter,” she stressed. “However, while being sympathetic to parents, the importance of good attendance cannot be underestimated.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It is right that schools across the country, including in Leeds, are taking action. Poor attendance at school can have a hugely damaging effect. We have given schools more power to tackle poor attendance and allowed them to intervene much earlier.”
Under the changes in England, fines for unauthorised absences are £60 if paid within 21 days or £120 within 28 days. All schools also now have the autonomy to set their own term dates.