Yorkshire’s postcode lottery over holiday fines for parents

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Parents in Yorkshire have been fined £1.5m for taking children on holiday during term time in the last school year but new figures show the penalty system is operating a postcode lottery.

More than 23,000 fines have been issued in the last academic year in the region as schools are urged to adopt a tougher stance on pupil absence.

However an investigation has revealed huge disparities across the region and within towns and cities in parents’ chances of being penalised.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show there were 10 schools in the region where more than 100 fines were issued to parents during 2014/15. However at the same time there was also more than 500 Yorkshire schools where no fines were issued at all.

Parents can be given a £60 penalty notice for taking their child out of school without the school’s permission. Two years ago the Government toughened its stance on the issue saying that absences should only be granted in exceptional circumstances. Previously up to ten days could be permitted. The latest figures show that in 2014/15 there were 23,632 fines issued to Yorkshire parents raising more than £1.4m which goes to local councils to help administer the system.

Data obtained from the 13 local education authorities also reveal a wide disparity between different councils and within the council areas themselves.

Four Yorkshire councils - Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Doncaster - each issued more than 3,000 fines while York issued just eight and Rotherham only 148. The highest number of fines at an individual school was 180 at Outwood Academy Adwick, in Doncaster, but figures also showed that at 16 of the town’s schools no penalties were issued at all. The academy principal Sir Michael Wilkins said GCSE results were affected by poor attendance and in extreme cases the academy trust’s schools would contact the council which could result in a fine.

It was a similar picture in Sheffield where 151 fines were issued to parents at Westfield School but 44 schools in the city recorded none and Leeds where more than 80 were issued at three schools while a third of the city’s schools - 90 - had no fines. Bradford had two schools with more than 100 fines but 71 with none.

The scale of the disparity suggests the likelihood of a parent receiving a fine will depend on how an individual headteacher or in some cases an individual council decides to implement the penalty policy. Leeds City Council said it recognised there was a problem with inconsistency and was reminding headteachers of their responsibility to implement the policy of fining parents. Other councils said it was the responsibility of individual schools and York Council suggested fines were only used as a last resort where pupil attendance was a problem.