Parents in Leeds have been issued with fines totalling more than £362,000 in the past 18 months for taking their children on holiday during term-time - amid fears enforcement is set to get even tougher following a landmark legal ruling.
An investigation by the Yorkshire Evening Post shows that parents in Leeds paid out £291,960 in the 2015/2016 academic year - the most in Yorkshire - after dishing out 4,866 penalty notices.
This is up from 3,435 fines in 2013/2014, at a total cost to parents of £206,100.
It was neighbouring Bradford that issued the highest number of financial penalties in the region, handing out 4,985 during the same period, however it generated a significantly lower amount at £129,485.
Since the start of this academic year Leeds City Council has already issued 1,172 penalties, raking in £70,320.
This is less than half of Bradford’s 3,165, although it still places the authority as handing out the third highest amount of penalty notices in the region, with Kirklees coming in second with 1,356.
The figure is now expected to rise after the supreme court ruled against Jon Platt, a father from the Isle of Wight, following a long-running legal case about term-time holidays.
The ex-president of the National Union of Teachers Anne Swift branded the current system, which was introduced in 2013, as unfair to headteachers and teachers who risk souring relationships with families and has likened the Government’s approach as “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
She said: “I think councils will now take a tougher stance but whether they should or not is a different matter. It sets up an area of conflict between schools and families which doesn’t need to be there.”
Figures for the last three years were obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) act and all but one of Yorkshire’s 15 local education authorities responded. The figures revealed almost a 50/50 split in the number of local education authorities that issued more fines in the 2015/16 academic year compared to 2014/2015.
While half of the region’s authorities, including Leeds, stood firm and continued to hand out an increasing number of fines while awaiting the supreme court hearing, councils, including Wakefield, backed off.
Steve Walker, director of children’s services at Leeds City Council, said: “We believe, and always will do, that the best place for children to be during term time is in school.
“We have always encouraged parents to think twice before booking holidays during term time as children with poor attendance tend to achieve less well in both primary and secondary school.
“Neither we nor our schools have any choice but to abide by the law, which changed in September 2013. We have a responsibility to ensure that any fine we issue is in line with our code of conduct and we follow statutory guidance from the government.
“A penalty notice is issued to parents or carers if they fail to ensure that their child attends school regularly. This could be due to a holiday in term time or other periods of irregular school attendance that are not authorised by their child’s school. We have a clear code of conduct which states that a fixed penalty notice would be issued for any unauthorised absences of five days or more within a 12 week period. This includes absences for holidays as well as other unauthorised absences.
“We will continue to support schools and parents to ensure that children attend school regularly and benefit from taking a full and active part in daily school life.”
Can penalty fines be withdrawn?
In Leeds, penalty notices are issued for unauthorised absences of five days or more within a 12-week period.
The FOI figures also revealed that Leeds City Council withdrew 371 fines in 2014/2015, compared to the previous academic year where it only withdrew 196 - just over half that amount.
Fines are withdrawn if parents or the school can provide sound evidence it should not have been issued in the first place, or if fines are not paid within 28 days and it doesn’t proceed to court.
And while no parent has been jailed in the past three years, 324 parents have been taken to court as a result of their child not attending school regularly.