Fines for families who go on holiday in term time

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The Independent Online

Parents will face instant fines of up to £100 if they take their children on holiday during term time in a fresh crackdown on truancy.

Parents will face instant fines of up to £100 if they take their children on holiday during term time in a fresh crackdown on truancy.

Ministers are to introduce the penalty this year in response to complaints from teachers about empty desks.

An estimated four million schooldays are lost each year in unauthorised absences, including holidays and shopping trips, taken with the blessing of parents. According to the Government, only 38 per cent bother to obtain permission from schools first.

While students are allowed 10 days' discretionary time away from school each year, if advance permission is granted, the Department for Education is concerned that many families – including middle-class parents taking their children on skiing trips – are abusing the system to avoid paying peak prices for holidays.

"We regard taking children out of school for holidays without authorisation as truancy, pure and simple," said Ivan Lewis, an education minister. "Parents who are doing it are irresponsible. The evidence is that many parents take their children away without any compunction whatsoever. We think that it is totally wrong."

Plans for fixed-penalty notices and court appearances for "holiday truants" are part of a wider crackdown on absence from school to be introduced in antisocial behaviour legislation later this year.

Two parents have already been sent to prison for failing to stop their children playing truant. The children of one jailed mother have since had 100 per cent attendance at school. Thirteen parents will appear at the first "truancy court" in Thurrock, Essex, this week, facing fines or even imprisonment. The new fast-track procedures aim to get parents of persistent truants into the legal system within three months.

Up to 20,000 children and teenagers a month are now being picked up by truancy sweeps, designed to crack down on antisocial behaviour and petty crime on the streets.

The new fines for parents taking their children on holiday will be issued when they return and can be appealed against.

Senior sources at the Department for Education said they did not expect parents to be imprisoned if they failed to inform teachers first that they were taking their children on holiday during term time. The new rules were designed to stop disruption at school, said one ministerial aide.

Ministers believe the Government would be guilty of "double standards" if it concentrated on low-income parents who allowed their children to wander the streets during school hours without penalising more affluent families who took their children abroad.

David Rendel, the education spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, gave a cautious welcome to the plans. "If children are taken out of school without the headteacher's permission, that it is clearly truancy and should be subject to the normal processes of the law. Taking a child out of school is not a trivial offence," he said.

"Ministers must consider, whether on-the-spot fines are the most appropriate sanction for every case. Headteachers should be able to take account of family circumstances. There may be cases where a child may need time away from school in order to have a family holiday."

* Class sizes at independent schools increased last year from an average of 9.7 to 10.1 because of an exodus of 3,000 teachers, government figures revealed yesterday.