Parents count the cost as on-the-spot fines soar

The front of Lytham St Annes High School.
The front of Lytham St Annes High School.

The number of parents being fined for taking their children out of school during term time has soared, new figures 
today revealed.

And town hall bosses have urged parents to work with schools and keep youngsters in classes.

Figures released to The Gazette show the number of fixed penalty fines handed to parents in Blackpool has almost doubled in a year, while there was a near eight-fold increase in the number of parents of pupils at Fylde and Wyre schools taken to task by Lancashire County Council.

The increase follows new Government rules introduced last September.

It comes as a Blackpool couple were left the latest counting the cost of taking their son out of school for a two-week holiday when they were hit with massive court fines.

Paul Chadwick and Cerys Maudsley were ordered to pay more than £1,000 between them at Blackpool Magistrates Court after taking their 12-year-old out of Lytham St Annes Technology and Performing Arts College.

Blackpool magistrates heard Chadwick and Maudsley, from Plumpton Avenue, had asked their son’s school for permission to take him out, but that their request had been refused.

The pair did not attend the court hearing, where they both faced an offence of failing to ensure a child’s attendance at school.

But Tony Didsbury, prosecuting for Lancashire County Council, had the case proved in their absence.

Both Chadwick and Maudsley were fined £400 and 
ordered to pay £100 costs and £40 victim’s surcharge.

Headteachers have always been able to grant leave in 
certain circumstances, 
including for holidays.

But the Government’s new rules have reduced their discretion and heads can now only authorise time off school in exceptional circumstances.

A penalty notice is issued if a child has 10 or more half-day sessions of unauthorised absence in one term, or 20 in two consecutive terms. The fine is £60, if paid within 21 days, increasing to £120 if paid within 28 days.

Money from fines is used to offset the cost of administering the penalty notice scheme and prosecutions for non-
attendance. Blackpool Council issued 58 penalty notices during the 2012/13 academic year, but that almost doubled to 110 in 2013/14.

In Wyre, the number rose from 42 during the 2012/13 academic year to 332 last year, while in Fylde it increased from 34 to 243.

Court prosecutions of parents are launched only after parents fail to pay a fixed penalty 

The number of prosecutions has also increased. In Blackpool, it increased from 12 to 26, in Wyre it trebled from 16 to 48 and in Fylde it more than doubled from 11 to 25.

Across the Lancashire County Council area, the number of penalty notices increased from 1,129 to 4,306 while prosecutions mushroomed from 267 to 523.

Lancashire County Council says penalty notices and prosecutions are intended to protect a child’s right to education, not to punish parents.

County Coun Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “Studies have shown that attainment is linked to attendance – if 
children miss out on school, they miss out on learning.

“It must be remembered these are national changes, not local, and schools have 
to work within the regulations.

“We are here to support and advise schools, but in the end each case has to be considered individually by the school.

“I’d ask parents to support their school staff and governors by making good attendance their first priority.

“Taking parents to court over non-attendance at school is a serious matter which we always consider carefully.”