Parents were shocked by the news that a primary school was threatening to fine parents up to £1,000 if they took their child on holiday during term time.
Balladen Community Primary School in Rossendale, Lancashire sent parents a letter from head teacher Sara Richardson, which said: “Lancashire county council is currently trialling a new system for dealing with unauthorised holidays and breaks during term time, involving an increase in the financial penalty to parents of up to £1,000 per parent per child. This system is still at the pilot stage but please be aware this may come into effect at any stage.”
However, Lancashire County Council has issued a statement saying it has no initiative running to increase the amount of money people would be fined – the penalty fines for unauthorised absence from school are set by the government and cannot be changed by a local authority, it said.
“No figure of £1,000 has been discussed by the authority, or even suggested,” the council said in the statement.
Lancashire County Council, which issued 7,575 parental fines for term-time absence during the last academic year, said the decision to authorise any absence rests with the headteacher of the particular school, and not with the county council.
Penalty notices of £120 for each child are an enforcement option available to local authorities, if requested by schools. This continues to be the policy.
“At this stage considerations regarding possible changes are simply a way of gathering ideas to try to ensure that children and young people attend school and receive a good education,” the council said. “Our policy regarding absence from school has not changed and there are no plans for this to happen.
County councillor Susie Charles, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “School attendance is given high priority in Lancashire and rightly so, as every day counts in each pupil’s education.
“We will continue to encourage schools to work closely with parents to reduce unauthorised absences and our aim throughout is not to punish parents, but to ensure that children and young people attend school and receive a good education. We firmly believe that children and young people’s success is linked to attendance and if children miss out on school, they miss out on learning.”
Our aim is not to punish parents but to ensure that children and young people attend schoolLancashire County Council
Following a government crackdown on term-time absences in 2013, parents who take children out of school without permission can be issued with a £60 fine per child. If that fine is not paid within 21 days it rises to £120 and after 28 days it will be claimed through reductions in child benefit. Those who fail to pay can face prosecution.
News of Balladen Community Primary School’s increased fines lead to Whitehall officials saying it was “out of tune” with the law, according to The Times.
When HuffPost UK asked the Local Government Association whether it was possible for schools to increase fines, a spokesperson stated: “Ensuring every child has a good school attendance is of paramount concern for everyone working with children, including councils, who have a legal responsibility to make sure children attend school regularly.
“However it is head teachers who know what is best for their pupils, and councils will support them to take the action they feel is necessary to address any issues with pupil attendance, including fining parents for unauthorised absences.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said on the matter: “We want children to be in school unless there are good reasons. It is right that the system includes penalties, but they should be proportionate.
“Local authorities can give parents a penalty of £60 for unauthorised absences which then increases to £120 if not paid within 21 days. The circumstances in which a local authority will normally issue a penalty notice must be set out in its code of conduct.”