Revealed: The number of parents fined at every Norfolk school for taking children out of class
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013
Parents in Norfolk's tourism heartlands are more likely to be fined for taking their children out of school than anywhere else in the county.
Figures released to the EDP and Evening News by Norfolk County Council show for the first time the lottery of how many penalty notices have been given to parents at each school for children failing to attend lessons - known as 'unauthorised absences'.
And there are huge differences from school to school and area to area.
Some schools have had no parents fined in the last two years, while at other schools dozens of parents are being punished.
Of the around 400 state schools in Norfolk, parents at 200 of them were fined last year, with the most fines given at schools on Norfolk's east coast.
Zoom in on the map below to find out how many fines were given at your child's school in 2015/16. Only schools where parents were fined are included on the map. Download the full data here.
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In 2014/15, all five of the schools where the most number of penalty notices were given were around Gorleston, Great Yarmouth and Caister.
In 2015/16, four of the top five were in that area.
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The highest number of parents fined in 2014/15 and 2015/16 were from Caister Academy.
That was followed by Ormiston Venture Academy in Gorleston, King Edward VII Academy in King's Lynn, Flegg High and Cliff Park Ormiston Academy in Gorleston.
King Edward VII Academy is one of the largest schools in Norfolk with more than 1,200 pupils, meaning it is more likely to appear near the top of our data, whereas Caister Academy is around half that size.
Dr Simon Fox, principal of Flegg High School, which had the highest number of fines per pupil in 2015/16, said it was hard for parents who were seasonal workers in coastal communities to take time off during the peak tourist season of school summer holidays.
'You are between a rock and a hard place, if you're running a seasonal business,' he said. 'It's a challenge for schools in coastal communities.'
He said the school worked with parents to remind them of the importance of their child's attendance at school.
The school with the highest number of fines to pupil numbers in 2014/15 was Hemsby Primary.
Susan Winter, deputy headteacher at the school, echoed Dr Fox's words.
'It is really difficult for families when they are running a business,' she said. 'Industry doesn't work to the same timetable as us. It is challenging for parents.'
Changes made in the last year mean fewer parents are being punished for taking their children out of school in Norfolk and Suffolk.
The U-turn came about after a High Court ruling in May, when Jon Platt, a parent from the Isle of Wight, was told he did not have to pay a fine for an unauthorised holiday, because his daughter had attended school regularly overall.
In 2014/15, the number of penalty notices given to parents in Norfolk shot up to 5,215 from 490 the year before.
That number declined to 1,800 in 2015/16 but is still far higher than before the sudden increase in 2014/15.
Norfolk County Council no longer punishes parents who take their children out of school for holidays without permission if their overall attendance is good.
Parents are only fined if there are reasons alongside a term-time holiday for the child being taken out of school, or when attendance drops below 90pc in a 12-week period and some or all of that absence is because of term-time holidays.
Parents can be fined £60 per child for poor attendance, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days. If they do not pay, they can be prosecuted.
Of the 1,800 cases in Norfolk in 2015/16 just 10pc went to court for a prosecution.
In Suffolk, the number of fines given to parents also shot up in 2014/15 to 5,293, before declining this year to just over 3,000.
In Cambridgeshire, however, the number continues to rise. In 2014/15, 660 penalty notices were issued, compared with 386 the year before.
The number has increased to 753 this year.
'It creates a bad feeling but it's really important'
In Norwich, the highest number of penalty notices were given out by primary schools in 2015/16 rather than by the city's large secondaries.
The highest number of fines went to parents at St Michael's Junior School in Bowthorpe and Bluebell Primary School in Earlham where there were 23 fines each.
Helen McCarney, headteacher at St Michael's, said she was 'absolutely forensic' about pupil attendance because unauthorised absences set children back.
'It is up to the school and governors about whether they purse it or not and unfortunately there is no real clear guidance,' she said.
'I hate doing it. I totally understand why parents take holidays at other times.'
She said giving parents fines created a 'bad feeling' but it was 'really important for a child's education'.
'Some schools do take it as more of an issue than others and there are other schools which don't pursue it,' she added.
Hillside Avenue Primary School in Thorpe St Andrew had 18 penalty notices issued to parents in 15/16 - more than Norwich's large secondary schools.
Headteacher Anita Gutteridge said an agreement had been made between the local cluster schools to enforce attendance.
'We are still sticking to our guns,' she said. ' We have a good attendance record and we want to keep it that way.'
Hellesdon High had the highest number of parents fined in Norwich in 2014/15, behind City Academy. But last year the number dropped from 89 fines to 14. Head of School Tom Rolfe said new staff had been brought in to reduce the number of absences.
'We were fined for a holiday'
Louise and Owen Page, from Hopton on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, were fined £120 for taking one child out of school for a family holiday - while their other child's school took no action.
The family went to Centre Parcs in Thetford Forest for a week in May and got permission from their son's school, Hopton VCP, but their daughter's school, Thurston Community College, refused permission.
When they returned from their holiday, they were fined £60 each for taking their daughter Emily, 12, away.
Whether parents are fined or not is up to the individual schools which pass the cases on to county councils if they think action should be taken.
Mr Page, 35, is a farmer near Diss and said he works 13 hours a day in August so can not take time off during school summer holidays.
He added it was 'ludicrous' that one of their children's schools refused permission while the other allowed it.
Parents can also save hundreds of pounds by going away during term time.
The cheapest package holiday we found for 10 days in Spain next summer with Thomson, flying out of Norwich Airport, starts at £600 per person in August.
In June 2017, the cheapest holiday started at £400 a person.
Norfolk headteachers debated cutting the length of summer and Easter holidays in 2014 to allow parents to go away out of peak season.
What the schools say
•Interim headteacher at Wroughton Junior School in Gorleston, Brendan McCarney, whose school had one of the highest number of penalty notices given per pupil, said parents were confused by the Government's policy on when they were allowed to take their children away.
'It'll be an ongoing problem until the Government is absolutely clear about what is allowed and what is not allowed,' he said.
'Parents are very confused about their rights and responsibilities because the Government has changed its mind a couple of times. It has got much tougher on absenteeism but still has not removed the option that they can taken them out under exceptional circumstances.'
•A school spokesperson for Ormiston Venture Academy in Gorleston, which had the second highest number of penalty notices in Norfolk in the last two years, said: 'Ensuring that they come to school every day is a hugely important part of achieving that. Our attendance policy is clear and supported by our parents, who understand the impact absence can have on their child's education.'
•Michelle Strong, principal of Caister Academy, which had the highest number of penalty notices in the last two years, said 'Good attendance is a habit; as a school we therefore have a duty to chase all students and develop in them good habits, in order to prepare them for when they leave us and enter the world of work.
'We therefore expect all students to attend unless there are medical reasons.
'At Caister we work in partnership with the families and the vast majority of parents strongly support their children by getting them to school every day.'
Mrs Strong added that attendance figures at the school had improved to 96pc in 2015/16.
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