Education bosses doled out fines to 73 Northamptonshire families who took their children out of school without permission in the first half of this school year.
Since September 2013, when the law was changed to force county halls to issue fixed penalty notices to families who took holiday during the school year, Northamptonshire County Council has also fined another 16 parents for other types of truancy aside from taking term-time holiday.
Former education secretary Michael Gove introduced the zero-tolerance approach last September, removing the right of headteachers to grant up to 10 days’ authorised leave to parents.
Fines are set at £60 per parent, per child, for each period of unauthorised absence.
The figures, revealed after a Freedom of Information request from the Northamptonshire Telegraph, showed that in the two years before the new laws came in, there were no fixed penalty notices issued over term-time holidays.
There were, however, four fixed penalty notices issued in 2011-12 and 15 issued in 2012-13 by the council for other types of unauthorised absences.
In the first six months of the 2013-14 school year, there were 16 fixed penalty notices issued for other unauthorised absence and 73 issued for term time holiday.
The total of those fines was £2,940.
The council has had payment from 49 of those families, with 40 yet to pay up.
By way of comparison, a harder line appears to be taken in Leicestershire where there were 284 fines for term-time absence during the same time period.
The Freedom of Information request also showed the number of parents prosecuted through magistrates’ courts for persistent unauthorised absence.
There were 62 prosecutions in the 2011-12 school year.
There were 23 in 2012-13 and 25 already so far in the curerent year.
Prosecutions through the courts are usually a last resort after measures have been taken to encourage persistent truants to return to school.
John Gardiner, headteacher of St Mary’s Primary School in Kettering, said term-time absence is not a big problem in his school but he is compelled to report it to the local authority.
He said: “Our hands are tied.
“It is Government policy that we should report all unauthorised absence to the inclusion team and then they decide whether to take action.
“Parents are understanding but yes, I do think some parents take the risk and factor the fine into the cost of their holiday.
“I have also heard of a few cases of parents claiming illness.”
A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman explained the local education authority’s stance.
The spokesman said: “From September 2013 absences in term time can only be authorised in exceptional circumstances, but the government has not defined what constitutes exceptional.
“As a result, we’ve advised schools their attendance policies need to clearly set out what they consider to be exceptional circumstances for granting term time absence.
“Authorisation remains at the discretion of the headteacher and governors and the council is not part of the authorisation process.
“A decision to consider the issue of fixed penalty notices is based on information submitted by schools.
“Our policy is that the issuing of a penalty notice should be balanced proportionally against the option of a further warning notice dependant upon the circumstances.
“An unpaid fine will progress to court action.”
The new law
You have to get permission from the headteacher if you want to take your child out of school during term time.
You can only do this if you make an application to the headteacher in advance and there are exceptional circumstances. All other absence must be reported to the local authority.
It’s up to the headteacher how many days your child can be away from school if leave is granted.
Most councils are using an element of discretion, and some are only fining parents if their child takes a week or more off school.
Instead of being prosecuted, you can be given a penalty notice.
The penalty is £60 per child per period of absence, rising to £120 if paid after 21 days but within 28 days.
Each parent or carer can be fined separately. If you don’t pay the fine you may be prosecuted.
Number of fines for term-time absence between September 2013 and February 2014: 73
Number of fines for term-time absence in previous two school years: 0
Total number of fines for all other types of absence from 2011 to 2014: 35
Total number of magistrates’ court prosecutions for persistent truancy from 2011 to 2014: 110
Number of fines paid so far this year: 49 out of 89
Total cash raised from term-time absence fines so far this year: £2,940