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Number of fines for term-time holidays almost double in a year

The number of fines issued to parents of schoolchildren in England for unauthorised family holiday absences shot up last year by 93%, new figures reveal.

The Department for Education said that 222,904 fines were issued for unauthorised holidays in the 2017/18 school year, up by about 107,000 on 2016/17 figures.

The fine is £60 if paid within 21 days, rising to £120 if paid after 21 days but within 28 days.

A high-profile case at the Supreme Court in April 2017, lost by father Jon Platt, led to a ruling that essentially confirmed that parents CAN'T take kids on term-time holidays without risking being fined. 

Mr Platt had refused to pay a fine after taking his daughter out of school without permission for a holiday to Disney World, and he initially won a High Court case in May 2016.

In the wake of this earlier ruling, many parents took their children on term-time breaks believing it was unlikely they would face action for doing so. But the case was later referred to the Supreme Court, where Mr Platt lost.

See our Can you take kids on term-time holidays without being fined? guide for full details on how the rules work.

Can I ever take my children out of school in term-time?

Schools used to have the discretion to allow up to 10 days' term-time holiday each year in 'special circumstances'. The rules were tightened in September 2013 – now head teachers at state schools in England can only give permission for term-time absences in "exceptional circumstances".

These could include visiting seriously ill family, attending a close family member's funeral or if a family member's in the armed forces and returning from operations. The Department for Education says you're "unlikely" to get permission simply for a family holiday.

There are also a number of allowances made under the law stating when your child can be absent. These are if they are sick, they are off for a day for religious reasons, they have no fixed address or if the child doesn't live within walking distance of the school (for under-eights this is two miles, for over-eights it's three miles) and the local authority didn't provide transport, boarding accommodation or the option for them to go to a closer school.

If I ignore the rules, what are the consequences?

Head teachers have to report absences (authorised and unauthorised) to the local education authority (LEA).

It's the LEA that can fine parents £60 for taking their child on holiday without permission. The fine's per child, per absence (and in theory each parent can be fined, though it varies).

The fine is an alternative to going to court, so you can't pay it and then decide you want to argue your case in front of a magistrate. The cash goes to LEAs to cover admin costs, but it's not actually ring-fenced and so could be spent on anything.

If you don't pay within 28 days you can be taken to magistrates' court under the Education Act 1996. If found guilty you could end up with a criminal record and face a fine of up to £2,500, court costs or even a jail sentence of up to three months.

What about in the rest of the UK?

The stats released today apply to state schools in England, but elsewhere in the UK:

  • In Wales, head teachers can still authorise 10 days in certain circumstances, but you can also be fined for unauthorised absences.

  • In Scotland, there's no £60 fine. Instead LEAs can issue 'attendance orders' to make a parent explain a pupil's absence – if parents don't comply or give a reasonable excuse they can be taken to court and could face up to one month in prison and a fine of up to £1,000.

  • In Northern Ireland, parents can be referred to the Education Welfare Service if a child's attendance drops below 85%. If parents don't engage with the service, they could be fined up to £1,000, but this is only used as a last resort. 

What does the Government say?

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "High-quality education and pastoral care will make a real difference to children's life chances, and that's particularly important for those who are most vulnerable, but clearly key initiatives will only work if children are present.

"That's why the rules on term-time absences are clear: no child should be taken out of school without good reason. We have put head teachers back in control by supporting them – and local authorities – to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence."

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