On-the-spot fines for taking children on holiday during term

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The Independent Online

Parents of truants will face spot fines from tomorrow if they are caught out shopping with them or take their children out of school for a holiday without the head's permission.

Parents of truants will face spot fines from tomorrow if they are caught out shopping with them or take their children out of school for a holiday without the head's permission.

It was initially thought that the scheme - under which parents could get a £100 fixed penalty notice like a parking ticket - would founder. Education welfare officers and headteachers, who would be given powers to issue the notices, said they opposed the idea because it would jeopardise their relationship with parents and pupils.

But now, truancy officers have decided they will attempt to make it work.

Jenny Price, general secretary of the Association for Education Welfare Management, said: "We were not happy about the plans as there are lots of reasons why children do not attend school and we were not convinced fines were the answer. But the plans have been introduced and come into force at the end of the month so our members now want to make it work."

Headteachers' leaders, who are still adamant that they do not want to issue the fixed-penalty notices, said yesterday that the fines could work for some parents. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "On-the-spot fines for truancy will, I think, make a difference to some families. Certainly taking parents to court has had an impact - although there has been a danger that the initial impact wears off."

But heads and travel agents do not believe the fines will stop parents taking their children on holiday during the school term. Even under the new rules, parents are entitled to take their children out of school for up to 10 days a year.

Mr Hart said: "I have yet to find a head who is remotely interested in using these powers. Many heads would be reluctant to pass the names of parents on to the local education authority for a first offence. I think that fining parents who take their children on holiday during term-time is an even more difficult area than truancy."

Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents, said: "We said we would be happy to support these measures, though we haven't made it a requirement for our members to inform parents or enforce the rules. The parents should know already for themselves and it could be regarded as patronising to tell parents what they can and can't do."

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, predicted some parents would forgo a holiday altogether if they were refused permission to take their children out of school. "Not all parents can afford to take their holidays during school holidays [when prices are higher] so if a headteacher tells them they can't go during term-time then he is effectively telling them they can't go at all," she said.

Under the new measures, parents could also be ordered to attend good parenting classes, with fines of up to £1,000 if they fail to turn up. Ivan Lewis, an Education minister, said: "If parents walk away from their responsibilities, then it is right that we make a strong statement that this is unacceptable."

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