Parents call for change over growing truancy prosecutions

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A Scarborough mum has told how she was made to feel like a criminal for taking her children on holiday, after an investigation revealed the rising number of parents punished under truancy laws.

Our exclusive figures show that on average, a Scarborough parent has been brought to court every fortnight while one is fined almost every day by North Yorkshire County Council.

The authority took its latest round of action last week, with four more parents appearing at Scarborough Magistrates’ Court over claims they took their children out of lessons for a holiday.

The council says it is simply upholding the law, but one mum who was brought to court claims the authority istargeting “easy prey”.

“I see parents in my job who never send their children to school, and the council don’t seem to do a thing about it,” said the health worker, who we can’t name for legal reasons.

“Instead they are seemingly cracking down hard on parents who just take their children away for a week rather than tackling the bigger issue.”

Her comments come after figures obtained under the Freedom of Information act revealed that 52 parents were issued court summons during the last two years over their children’s attendance.

The cash-strapped authority also pocketed over £32,000 in fines from the 495 it issued during that period, a figure which equates to roughly one for each school day.

Legislation allows schools to impose various penalties, including £60 fines, on the parents on persistent non-attendance.

The county council says it reinvests that money into administering the scheme, which last year took action against 303 Scarborough parents – up around 25 per cent on the previous 12 months.

The majority of this action is understood to be against parents taking children away during term time, much like another Scarborough parent who was hauled to court.

The woman was initially offered a fine for taking her kids away during term time, having initially thought she’d booked it during the holidays.

Feeling it unfair, she fought it but was brought to court where magistrates sided with North Yorkshire County Council.

“I’m not someone who keeps their children off wily-nilly, so to go to court made me feel like a criminal,” she said.

“I felt the holiday was worthwhile and educational –they experienced culture and learned more in that one week than they would at school.

“The more I thought about it the more I felt it was unjust as my children road camels, went scuba diving and did geothermal experiments at a volcano – where else are they going to get to do that?”

As such, there are growing calls for me leniency for parents taking children out of class during the term, especially in seasonal seaside towns like Scarborough, where parents often have to work during the summer holidays.

However, the county council say parents can get permission to take their children out of class, that can only be in exceptional circumstances - something it doesn’t feel a holiday is.

“Government legislation gives no entitlement to parents to take their child on holiday during term time,” said a council official.

“Under the new legislation leave of absence can only be granted in exceptional circumstances and the regulations make clear that headteachers would not be expected to class any term time holiday as exceptional.

“Where a child is taken out of school for leave of absence in term time, without the permission of the school, the absence must be coded by the headteacher as unauthorised.

“An unauthorised absence results in a Penalty Notice which is then applied automatically by the local authority.”

But with travel agents hiking prices during the school holidays, the mum added that she expects the number of prosecutions to continue rising.

“At the end of the day it is cheaper just to pay the fine and take them out of class, than to pay a fortune and take them during the holidays.

“Something has to change somewhere otherwise the situation will just get worse for parents.”