Hundreds of Portsmouth parents fined for taking holidays during term-time

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MORE than 800 people in Portsmouth have been fined for taking their children out of school during term-time this year.

Portsmouth City Council revealed the figure after a Freedom of Information request by The News.

142303_SCHOOL_FEES_5/8/14''Helen Louth, Jessica Louth 6 and Maxi Louth, 8.''Helen is angry about the way schools respond to parents taking their children out of school to go on holiday during term time.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (142303-114) PPP-140508-160150003

142303_SCHOOL_FEES_5/8/14''Helen Louth, Jessica Louth 6 and Maxi Louth, 8.''Helen is angry about the way schools respond to parents taking their children out of school to go on holiday during term time.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (142303-114) PPP-140508-160150003

Neighbouring authority Hampshire County Council has fined just 71 people in the same period.

Figures obtained show the city council has made £50,000 from imposing 831 fines since January 1, something parents say is too much, the National Union of Teachers says is ‘unhelpful’ and the Local Government Association would like to see stopped.

David Simmonds, from the LGA, said: ‘We shouldn’t have a system where family holidays are just for the rich.

‘There needs to be flexibility within the system.’

Christine Blower NUT general secretary said: ‘We do not believe that fining parents is the right approach. It is far better that the school and the parents discuss the situation and work out the best way forward.’

Many parents have been in touch with The News to say they have been fined.

Parents receive a £60 fine for each week they take a child out of school, which rises to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

After that, the parent could face court and a fine of up to £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.

Portsmouth mum Helen Louth was fined £240 for taking her two children on holiday for two weeks in June.

Mrs Louth, of Sunningdale Avenue, Baffins, said: ‘I feel that those of us who are hard working and honest are being discriminated against and we would be better off not working and claiming benefits to find valuable time to spend with our children.’

Julien Kramer, head of education at the council, defended the figures and said attendance rates were the best they have ever been.

Mr Kramer said the council’s firm stance has contributed to this improvement.

He added: ‘We’re guided by the principle that children have a fundamental right to be educated.

‘Parents have a legal duty to ensure their child is educated and any absence could have an impact on a child’s long-term educational progress.

‘The council has a duty to ensure parents send their children to school.

‘Parents who choose to take their children out of school against the wishes of the school and the law do so knowing there is a consequence.’

How the figures stack up

National figures for the autumn and spring terms of the 2013 to 2014 academic year show that:

- 176,850 fewer pupils persistently missed school than in 2009 to 2010, from 439,105 to 262,255

- 10.1m fewer school days were lost to absence than in 2009 to 2010, from 45.8m to 35.7m

- The overall rate of absence has dropped by more than a quarter since 2009 to 2010, from six per cent to 4.4 per cent

- Almost 1m fewer school days were lost to term-time holidays - from 3.3m last year to 2.5m this year

- If a pupil was persistently absent - defined as missing about 15 per cent or more of school time - for their whole school career, then they would lose about 18 months of lesson time.

How the cost hits families

A family of four heading to Cyprus in the October half-term would have been hit with fares that are £1,564 higher than if they flew two weeks later.

That’s because just a fortnight later, fares dropped from £510 per person to £119 per person.

Similarly, a family looking to head to Menorca during the October mid-term break would have faced fares of an additional £732, with flights costing £400 per person while the same flight two weeks later would be £217 per person.

Some airline firms ramp up prices for long haul flights during the half term, with flights to Orlando, Florida from London Heathrow £181 more expensive per person flying in half-term than two weeks later.

To read parents’ reactions to being fined click here.