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Fines for taking children out of school during term time have been slammed by parents – but MPs insist youngsters’ attendance is crucial, writes Stephen Topping.

It was revealed last week that the number of fines issued to parents in Cheshire in the first year following a high-profile court battle soared compared to previous years.

Recent Government figures show 4,147 fines were issued in 2017-18 by Cheshire West and East councils combined – compared to 354 in 2016-17, 1,603 in 2015-16, 2,237 in 2014-15 and 1,636 in 2013-14.

Mike Amesbury, Labour MP for Weaver Vale, says attendance is crucial – but admits high prices for holidays outside of term time can be frustrating for financially-stretched parents.

He said: “Evidence shows regular attendance at school is an important part of ensuring children fulfil their potential.

“I believe there should be a clear expectation that children should be in school during term time, except for in exceptional circumstances.

“However, I completely understand the frustration of parents at the rise in the cost of family holidays – in some instances there have been huge increases that have led to many holidays becoming unaffordable.

“I also understand concerns about the level of the fines imposed on those who take their child out of school unauthorised.

“I welcome that the Government has been pressed to work with the travel industry to try to mitigate the cost of holidays for families who have already withstood austerity and are living on the breadline.”

The sharp rise in fines followed the legal battle involving Isle of Wight Council and Jon Platt, who was prosecuted by the Supreme Court for taking his daughter on holiday during term time in 2015.

Under legislation, councils have the power to issue a £60 fine to parents, rising to £120 if the parent has not paid within 21 days.

If a parent still has not paid after 28 days, they can be prosecuted with a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence of up to three months.

Parents can also be ordered to go to parenting classes.

Esther McVey, Conservative MP for Tatton, welcomes the role of headteachers in having the final say on whether parents should be fined.

She added: “I am generally supportive of the rules around holidays in term time and do understand the disruption to the individual, the class and the teacher that it can cause when a pupil is on holiday during term time.

“Improving attendance and reducing absences has been a key focus for the Government because poor attendance can have an impact on pupils’ attainment.

“That said, I do think individual circumstance should play a part in the decision – whether that is the age of the child, time in the academic year or the nature of the trip – and that headteachers should have the ultimate say as they know the child and the degree of interruption to their education missing school may cause.”

Parents and Nantwich News readers had their say on school absences on social media – with an overwhelming number suggesting the fines are unfair.

Kath Harris said: “As an ex teacher, I think the fines are wrong.

“Some parents really can’t afford to take their holidays in the expensive school holiday times, it’s cheaper to pay the fine.

“At certain stages of a school career it is vital that pupils don’t miss school, before GCSEs and year 6 SATS for example, but the rest of the time, the students can catch up.

“Why not take the necessary work with them, maths, English and science? One question, who gets the fine money? Maybe it’s the travel companies, who put the prices up at vital times, and not the parents who should be penalised.”

Dorothy Smart added: “When the Nantwich and Crewe schools don’t even have the same fortnight off for Easter, is it any wonder parents take their kids out of school?”

Karen Marie Rowley added: “Also what about all the inset days I’ve had to fork out childcare costs for, surely its the same thing and I should be sending the school/council the bill? It’s ok for the kids to miss out on education for that day?”

Holly Tench added: “I am a primary teacher and I don’t believe parents should be fined.

“I totally understand why they choose to go in term time due to the astronomical price hike during the holidays.

“One thing parents should be mindful of though is the impact it has on their child’s learning.

“There are certain times of year when children need to be in school.

“The start of a new school year and around assessment times for example.”

Ange Toft said: “Money grabbing exercise.

“I used to take my eldest son out of school for a week a year (always when there was nothing major happening) whilst it was still allowed.

“He’s now half way through his A Levels after fabulous GCSE results and planning which Uni to attend. Just another “tax”.”

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