Published: 00:01, 20 November 2014
Kent has seen a huge rise in parents being fined for taking their children out of school without permission.
Since 2011, the total fines issued to Kent parents have risen from £96,900 to £319,560, and increase of 230%.
Families in Gravesham have received more penalties than any other district in Kent following the introduction of tough new rules.
A total of 695 fines were served on parents in the borough in the 2013-14 academic year, a rise of 54% in two years.
The increase in fines across the country has led to an outcry from parents and forced the government to step in and urge head teachers to use more “common sense” when deciding on whether to authorise absences during term-time.
“The youngest two had never been abroad, had 96% attendance and Mark’s mum had been diagnosed with terminal cancer" - Michelle Smith
Until September last year heads had the discretion to authorise requests for up to 10 days for a holiday in term time, as well as extended leave of absence.
This was removed by the Department for Education, although parents can apply under “exceptional circumstances”.
One family revealed the inconsistencies of the system, saying that when they took their family away, their two primary children were fined, while the eldest children, at secondary school, were let off.
Mum-of-four Michelle Smith, 41, was fined £240 when she returned from a holiday in Majorca, in July last year.
Both she and her husband Mark, 48, were penalised £60 for Ryan, nine, and Chloe, eight, after they were taken out of St John’s Primary School in Gravesend.
But St John’s Comprehensive, attended by Mrs Smith's eldest children Luke, 17, and George, 14, did not issue fines.
Mrs Smith, of Thong Lane, said: “The youngest two had never been abroad, had 96% attendance and Mark’s mum had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
"I wrote a letter to the school informing them and they were out of school for a week. But while the secondary school took our circumstances into account, Mark and I were fined for Ryan and Chloe.
“We took them away just before the schools broke up, when the curriculum is finished and the kids are just messing about. We took the holiday as late as we could.
"I agree there ought to be a fine system but they should look at each individual case.”
Louise Garland, 40, a mum of two who also lives in Gravesend, said any authorised absence should be based on a child’s attendance.
She said: “Five days off for a child who has a high attendance throughout the rest of the year is totally acceptable in my eyes.
“It’s hard to achieve the work-life balance and all we want is a week with our families that we can afford” - Louise Garland
“It’s hard to achieve the work-life balance and all we want is a week with our families that we can afford.”
Parents are fined £60 per parent per child per period of absence, which rises to £120 if not paid within 21 days.
Those who fail to pay face prosecution and a maximum fine of £2,500 or jail of up to three months.
Penalty notices are issued for irregular attendance as well as for unauthorised holiday.
Where absence is unauthorised, a head may request the local authority to issue a penalty notice.
Gravesham topped the league table of 12 districts in respect of the actual number of penalty notices issued by Kent County Council.
Although the figures do not reveal the exact reasons children have been taken out of school during term time, many parents do so to avoid high holiday costs and as the school year winds down for the summer.
A breakdown of the number of penalty notices issued per term also appears to back this up.
In Gravesham, 263 were issued in the summer term of 2013/14, as opposed to 226 in autumn and 206 in spring.
In Dartford, 121 were issued in summer in the same year, with 97 in autumn and 46 in spring.
The number of penalty notices served in both boroughs has also been consistently higher in the summer term in previous years
A total of 695 fines were served on parents, just beating Swale on 688 and Tonbridge and Malling on 622.
KCC said the increasing number of parents taking their children out of school for holidays during term time was of “particular concern” as there was “clear evidence” of a link between poor attendance and low levels of achievement.
A spokesman added: “The Department for Education is rightly placing greater emphasis on pupil attendance, and schools are taking a robust approach, using a range of tools such as texting parents and pupils, mentoring and fines to tackle persistent absence.”
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