MORE PARENTS across Teesside are facing fines in order to enjoy cheaper family holidays during term time.
The number of parental fines handed out across schools in Middlesbrough has risen by more than 41% this academic year, following a government ban on term time holidays.
Head teachers used to be allowed to grant 10 days holiday a year during term time, but after regulations were introduced in September 2013, local authorities have the power to fine parents if their child’s absence is unauthorised.
Parents are fined £60 per child per period of absence, which rises to £120 if not paid within 21 days.
According to a Freedom of Information request to Middlesbrough Council, despite these regulations, a total of 261 fixed penalty notices have been issued so far in this academic year in schools across Middlesbrough – a rise of more than 41% on the figures for the whole of the last academic year.
While some of the fines will have been for truancy and repeated poor attendance, many were for parents who took children on holiday during term time.
These latest figures come just weeks after the parents of two Middlesbrough school pupils were hit with court fines over unauthorised term-time holidays.
In the first case, Oumorou Rassidou, 49, and Jayne Rassidou, 40, of Albert Terrace, Middlesbrough were found guilty of failing to secure the regular attendance of their child at Acklam Grange School following a trial at Teesside Magistrates’ Court.
Both defendants were found guilty and were each fined £55 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £40. The pair were also jointly ordered to pay prosecution costs of £530.
In a separate case dealt with by Teesside Magistrates, Acklam Grange parent Mandy Birangwa, 56, of Wibsey Avenue, Middlesbrough, was fined £200 with £80 costs and ordered to pay a £20 victim surcharge for a similar offence.
Richenda Broad, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Director for Wellbeing, Care and Learning, said: “While the vast majority of parents are responsible, there remains a significant minority who take their children out of school for holidays during term time.
“This authority takes the issue of attendance extremely seriously because the importance of education in the life of every child cannot be overstated. There is strong evidence that missing time at school has a significant impact on a child’s chances of achieving good qualifications and future employability.
“In exceptional circumstances requests for absence during term time will be considered, and enforcement measures are only used as a last resort.
“However, parents who break the law in this way – and harm their children’s prospects in the process – can expect to be dealt with severely.”
For the academic year 2014 to 2015, out of the 261 fixed penalty notices issued by Middlesbrough Council, 146 have been paid and 37 cases have progressed to court, while 39 parents have been given more than one fixed penalty notice.
This compares to 184 fixed penalty notices between September 2013 and July 2014, of which 112 were paid, 49 cases went to court, while 29 parents were issued with more than one fixed penalty notice.
The government’s stance for the parental fines was based on research that showed that regularly missing lessons can damage a pupil’s chances of achieving good qualifications.
But the regulations have stirred up widespread opposition from parents who argue that head teachers should be allowed to take a common sense approach to requests for leave of absence, particularly in view of the rising cost of taking a holiday during half term breaks and holiday periods.
A recent check on tour operator Thomas Cook’s website illustrates that big differences in price still exist between holidays booked during term time and breaks in official school holidays.
For example a week-long all-inclusive trip to Liberty Hotels, Lykia, Turkey through Thomas Cook would cost a family of four £2806 at the end of June. Yet the same holiday just a month later during school holidays costs almost twice as much, at £4960.
Meanwhile on the same website, a week long half board trip to Vidama Resorts in Madeira at the end of June would cost a family of four £3084. Yet the same holiday four weeks later during school holidays costs more than a £1,000 more at £4146.
Young mum-of-two Helen Price, of Acklam, Middlesbrough said: “I think it’s disgusting that we have to pay so much more to go on holiday during the school holidays – sometimes the price difference can mean the difference between having a family holiday and not being able to afford one.
“We have taken the children out of school a few days before the summer break to go on holiday, which has meant we have saved hundreds of pounds on flights.
“I think it should be all judged on an individual basis – if your children have good attendance and your break doesn’t interfere with their school work, I really don’t see what the problem is.”
Staggered term times
The issue has re-ignited the debate over councils staggering their term times to stop holiday prices going up during school breaks.
An ABTA spokesman said: “Prices for holidays are determined by demand and supply. Prices rise during school holidays because more people in the UK want to take breaks at set times – this increases the demand for a finite number of hotel rooms and flight seats, pushing prices upward.
“We believe a potential solution is for education authorities to look at staggering the dates that schools take their holidays, so the breaks and demand are spread over longer periods. This already works in Germany where holiday dates are staggered by region.”