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Kent parents pay £174k in truancy fines in a year after taking unauthorised absences from school

Parents were forced to cough up £174,000 in truancy fines in a year, it's been revealed.

The figures come as MPs debate in the House of Commons whether travel firms should be allowed to increase prices during the school holidays.

Penalty notices are handed out by education authorities to parents whose children are regularly absent from school without permission or for unauthorised holiday.

A family enjoys a break together
A family enjoys a break together

Of the 3,994 fines issued throughout the county from September 2012 to August 2013, 2,649 were to those taking their children on holiday during term time.

That is two-thirds of the total, from 206 schools countywide.

In neighbouring Medway 571 penalty notices were issued in that period, with 495 of those coming from unauthorised absences.

Until last September, head teachers had the discretion to authorise parental requests for up to 10 days leave for the purpose of a holiday in term times, as well as extended leave of absence.

This was removed by the Department for Education (DfE), although parents can apply for “exceptional” leave of absence with the head deciding.

Fines are £60 if paid within 21 days, or £120 between 22 and 28 days.

The total raised by Kent County Council between September 2012 and August 2013 was £174,000.

The money pays for the administration of the scheme.

"It is being abused to make money out of parents who have to meet the inflated costs of the holiday industry" - Gravesham council leader John Burden

Many have slammed KCC, as well as the tour operators who charge higher prices during school holidays, and appear to be choosing to pay a fine rather than the extra holiday cost.

Some have argued that holidays were educational, with family bonding time equally important.

Others said children already had enough time off school and rules should be adhered to.

Gravesham Council leader Cllr John Burden (Lab) sympathised with parents and carers.

He said: “The fines were brought in quite rightly to make parents focus on making sure their children have an education. That is a good, positive aspect of the scheme.

“But it is now being abused to make money out of parents who have to meet the inflated costs of the holiday industry.”

Cllr Burden, who has nephews and a niece, added: “Schools need to be flexible with parents and discretion should be in place.

Gravesham council Cllr John Burden
Gravesham council Cllr John Burden

"Some parents don’t have a choice when they go on holiday and it’s important they have that time with their children because primary bonding is important and can be an important part of the education process.”

A spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) defended the higher costs of holidays and said it was a simple case of supply and demand.

But he added that while families should book early to take advantage of family discounts, schools could also help solve the problem by staggering when they take holidays.

“Every time demand for holidays rises, prices will rise and school holidays increase demand.

School pupils. Stock picture
School pupils. Stock picture

“That might not be the only reason though. Major sporting events, bank holidays, Christmas and Easter are also times when everybody wants to go on holiday and prices inevitably go up.

“We have suggested for a number of years that the way for these issues to be addressed is for schools to consider taking their holidays at different times of the year.

“In July and August everyone wants to go on holiday, not just schools, and it’s also when the whole of Europe tends to holiday as well.

“How schools do it, we don’t have power over. But staggering dates and spreading demand would help. The problem will never go away until schools do this.”

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