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Parents fined after taking youngsters out of lessons

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: December 25, 2013

By Belinda Hargreaves

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FIVE fines have been issued to parents in the Staffordshire Moorlands for taking their children out of school without permission during the past term.

Up until this academic year, headteachers could use their discretion to decide whether or not children should have up to 10 days off to take a family holiday during term-time.

During the autumn term of 2012, no such fines were issued within the Staffordshire Moorlands.

However, tough new laws were introduced in September. Head teachers are now duty bound to report parents who break the rules, except in “exceptional circumstances”.

A spokesman for Staffordshire County Council, which issues such fines, said: “Last year in the Staffordshire Moorlands we issued no penalty notices during the Autumn term.

“This year, we have issued five penalty notices in the Staffordshire Moorlands.”

The fines of £120 are issued to each parent for each child in the family who has been taken out of school.

This means that if a mum and dad take their two children out of school during term-time, they will face a £480 fine.

The initial penalty is £60 if paid within 21 days of receipt rising to £120 if paid after 21 days but within 28 days.

The parents could be prosecuted if 28 days have expired and full payment has not been made.

The spokesman confirmed that two families within the Staffordshire Moorlands were affected by the five particular penalty notices this autumn term.

Councillor Ben Adams, cabinet member for learning and skills said: “School attendance is vital to children’s educational attainment and parents have a duty to ensure their children are not absent without good reason.

“Under the new regulations, head teachers can still grant leave of absence in exceptional circumstances and that is something we support.

“We have no specific concerns about absences taken for holidays in Staffordshire and are sure this will continue to be the case.

“We have always sought to discourage parents from taking their children on holidays during the school term and the vast majority of our parents accept this.”

However, some parents have voiced their concern about the new regulations.

Mum-of-two Jo Wincle, aged 41, of Leek, said: “The holiday companies charge way too much during school holidays.

“People on low incomes and single parents like me can’t afford to take children away during school holidays because of this.

“I did used to take my children out of school term-time to take them on holiday when they were younger.

“I had no problems back then. It was just a case of filling in a form at school for the permission.

“I haven’t done it over the past few years due to my children’s exams. So these tougher regulations don’t really affect me bbut I do feel for parents with younger children.”

Ms Wincle added: “They say it’s so that children don’t miss any education but what really annoys me is that they don’t seem to care about the children’s education when there are teachers’ strikes.

“And where does the education go at the end of each term. Over the last week, I’ve heard that a lot of children have just been sat watching DVDs in school or doing non-educational activities.”

Leek Federation executive headteacher Keith Hollins explained the guidelines which the three schools of the Federation use: “It is well known that missing school for any reason can cause a child to fall behind in their learning.

“Sometimes children also find it difficult to settle back into school after a break. In the longer term, evidence shows that reduced levels of attendance are likely to affect the progress of any child, whatever their needs or ability, and can also result in lower levels of qualifications being achieved.

“The Leek Federation is committed to raising the levels of achievement for all children and young people and to ensuring that all children get the maximum benefit from their time at school.

“For these reasons, the three schools strongly encourage parents to take holidays (or trips away from home for any other reason) during the school holidays, rather than during term time.

“As schools are closed for 13 weeks a year it should not normally be necessary for children to miss school for these reasons. Leave of absence for any reason should only be requested in the most exceptional circumstances.

“It is sometimes thought that parents have a right to take children out of school for up to ten days a year for the purpose of taking holidays. This is in fact a myth, and there never has been a right to remove children from school for the purpose of a holiday at all. In 2013 the Government took further steps to discourage holidays in term time. It passed legislation abolishing the right of schools to authorise up to ten days a year specifically for holidays if special circumstances exist.

“This means that from September 2013 leave of absence for any reason - including for holidays - has only be granted if the school is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist. Even then, our schools may still refuse to give permission - for example, if a child has a poor attendance record, or, if the proposed leave of absence is at a particularly important time, such as in the run up to exams or at the start of a new school year.

“The decision taken by the Federation’s headteachers is guided by two key questions: One, is the reason for which leave of absence is sought sufficiently important to outweigh the negative impact upon the child’s education, (taking into account the student’s attainment, attendance and ability to catch up on missed schooling); and two, is the school satisfied that the activity for which leave of absence is sought could not reasonably have been arranged to take place during the school holidays?”

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