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Date: 11 March 2014

Today's Topic: Fines for taking kids on holiday up by 70%

Triggers: BBC News Report

My Grump: Here we go again!!

The number of fines given to parents for taking their children on holiday during term time has risen dramatically by 70%.

A change in the law came into effect from last September (2013). Heads in England were previously able to grant up to 10 days of leave a year for family holidays in "special circumstances". But since 1 September 2013, they have no longer been able to grant any absence in term time except under "exceptional circumstances".

Up to the autumn term 2012, just over 3000 fixed penalty notices were issued. Roll that forward 12 months when the new rules came into force, and now we find that up to autumn term 2013, that number has gone up to 5276 fines. That is a rise of 74%.

This is what's tripping up parents. Parents in England and Wales have a legal responsibility to ensure their child attends school, unless they have opted to home-educate them. If they fail to do so, they are committing an offence under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996.

Tougher on fines. The amount of the fine has stayed the same, but the period of time you have to pay the penalty notice is now 21 days, down from the previous 28 days. But very quickly, fines can escalate into the thousands and even carry the threat of a prison term.

An example might be, a family with two parents and two children, each parent gets fined and per child, so the fine is 240. Two parents with three children is 360. If you don't pay within the 21 days, the fine doubles, and if that's not paid, then the ultimate sanction is to go to court, when the fine can be up to 2500.

Ron Collinson Liverpool City council's head attendance officer, says 'It's not just about the money, parents have to think about other things'. I have a message for you Ron, for parents, YES IT IS ABOUT THE MONEY!! It's only 'not about money' for you and your department who are more concerned about looking good for the Education Secretary. Of course, it's true that, 'We have the best figures for the autumn term that we've ever had' and that the tougher measures have had a dramatic effect on raising attendance rates. What do you expect?

I don't really believe you when you say you have sympathy for parents trying to cut the cost of their family holiday. But I do agree with you when you say that 'the interests of the child have to come first'. You said on the BBC this morning, 'You save a lot of money by going during term time, but you pay the cost at the other end in terms of disruption to your child's schooling'. A week out of school does not destroy a child's education. I don't think any sane person would agree with you on that.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Poor attendance at school can have a hugely damaging effect, and children who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are regularly absent'. I agree with that, so target the parents who take their kids out of school willy-nilly for weeks or months at a time. Because we're not talking about regular absence are we, unless you are talking annually, but I think not.

The same holiday during school holidays for a poxy chalet in a holiday camp is 2000 a week, out of the holiday period it's 500. You do the math and tell me it's not about money. Too many kids aren't even having a holiday with their mum and dad for this very reason.

The ridiculous thing about this legislation is that whilst the new law does apply across the whole country, it varies from county to county and from council to council, how the law is applied and enforced.

To the councils that try to hoodwink us by saying they aren't just taking a hard line with this to swell their coffers, and it's not a money spinner for them, and that the fines only just cover the cost of introducing the system in the first place, I say, BOLLOCKS! I don't believe you either.

The solution as I see it, is simple.

The thing is, when a law is unjust, it is unjust, no matter how you dress it up. Just look at where it can ultimately end up; prison. You will have a criminal record for taking your kids on holiday, or to a funeral, or to the bedside of a sick grandparent. People are sick to death of the Nanny State and more and more parents are now taking their kids on holiday regardless of the consequences.

Spending quality time with your parents and siblings is just as important, if not more important, than going to school. So why not make time for both? Sanction holidays up to 1 week, once a year. That's only 5 days out of school. Staggered term times are also a good idea as the payoff would be cheaper holidays all round. The holiday companies wouldn't have to profiteer at peak times, and the facilities, like the beaches, swimming pools and other amenities, would be less swamped.

Look at a case on an individual basis. Look at the attendance record so far that term or last term, look at the childs achievements for the previous year. I was on the school Governors when we purchased software that told you all this information at the click of a mouse. I'm sure all schools will have similar systems in place by now. If everything is in order, the Head, then makes a recomendation on that basis, and the parents will see that it has been done fairly.

Reserve sanctions for the irresponsible few who either don't bother to send their kids to school, or take them out for weeks at a time, at least that way your argument has some validity. Fining families for doing what families are supposed to do is bloody monstrous and it's time to pack it in.

I have a question.

So here we are on Wednesday the 26th March 2014. Thousands of schools have either shut down completely or will be sending some pupils home when teachers stage a one-day strike today. There is now widespread disruption throughout England and Wales as a result of the 24-hour stoppage. More than half of the 3,500 secondary schools are likely to be severely disrupted by the strike and as many as 16,000 primary schools are likely to close as well.

My Question is: Should all those people who have been fined for unlawfully taking their kids out of school, now be entitled to their money back? If it was me, I think I'd go and demand a refund.

Please share your thoughts below, thank you.

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