Parents' choice: Splash out or be fined

With the summer holidays just a week away, parents will be packing bags and grumbling about the cost of peak season breaks. Now they are being warned that they could face fines - but most will find them a small price to pay compared with the savings to be made on their holidays.

With the summer holidays just a week away, parents will be packing bags and grumbling about the cost of peak season breaks.

Now they are being warned that they could face fines - but most will find them a small price to pay compared with the savings to be made on their holidays.

From September, parents in Suffolk will face fixed penalty fines of £50 if their children are off school for more than five days.

They will find themselves in the same boat as Norfolk parents, 72 of whom have been fined over failing to get their children to school.

But with the prices of holidays rising so dramatically during school breaks, many families will not be deterred by a £50 fine when they could be saving up to £300 on the cost of their trip.

Adrian Orr, Suffolk County Council's senior education officer, said that the scheme is aimed at reducing truancy and ensuring that children do not miss out on their education.

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He said: “Most parents don't realise that they have no legal right to take their children out of school without the express permission of the headteacher.

“That permission may only be given in cases of crisis, such as a family problem or bereavement, or if the parent's period of leave is fixed, for example if they are in the armed forces.

“A lot of parents think the weeks leading up to holidays can be missed, but the curriculum is 190 days and things like activity weeks are just as important as normal classes.”

The fines are nationally set at £50 if a child has more than ten sessions - five days - off school without authorisation. That increases to £100 if it is not paid within 28 days, and parents who do not pay up within 42 days could face legal action.

Mr Orr said that, while £50 may not be enough to put some parents off taking term-time holidays, the problem of inflated prices in the summer break was the fault of the travel industry and not schools.

And with an average family break in the Canaries in August costing almost £300 more than the same trip taken in early July, it is easy to see why parents cannot resist the temptation to take their holidays in term-time.

Suffolk County Council is taking action now after seeing how schemes in neighbouring counties have reduced truancy levels.

Parents in Norfolk have been faced with the threat of fines for three years. Roger Fox, court officer for Norfolk County Council's attendance team, said: “The system is certainly making a difference for individual children, and they need us to push this forward and develop it further.

“We would be letting the children down if we didn't try to keep them in school and if this is the only way we can do that, then so be it.”

He said that the policy in Norfolk is to issue a warning to parents whose children are frequently absent, and allow three weeks for their attendance to improve. If nothing changes then a fine may be issued.

Schools in the county have given out about 400 warnings in the last academic year and 72 of those led to parents being fined.

Mr Fox added: “Most parents take notice of the warning, more take notice of the fine and we have taken 26 people to court in the last year who have not paid up.

“We don't see this as a way of punishing people, but as another tool in the box to get children back into school and staying there.”

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire County Council said that they do not issue such fines and have no plans to do so in the near future.

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