Sheffield parents hit with £290k fine over school-time holiday breaks

Parents jetting off with their children in term time could face a fine and even court. Picture Ross Parry/SWNS
Parents jetting off with their children in term time could face a fine and even court. Picture Ross Parry/SWNS
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Nearly 5,000 parents in Sheffield have been fined over the last two years for taking their children on holiday during school term time.

The city council has raked in around £290,000 in fines after 4,846 parents from September 2014 to July 2016 were hit with £60 fines for taking children on unauthorised holidays.

The Star understands that the authority does not directly profit from administering the penalty - instead, money gained in charges is invested in a scheme that encourages a high attendance level at school.

It is also up to headteachers to pass on information regarding the absence to the council before they can hand out a fine of £60 per parent.

Many parents said they take term-time breaks to save money, as holidays increase in price when children are off school.

Others said they would pay the fine again as they would still save money on the holiday.

Darren Oldfield, 49, of Richmond, took his two children out of school to Tenerife in 2015 during term-time.

Despite voicing his displeasure at paying the £120 fine, he said it was worth it ‘in the long run’.

“We contacted the school about the holiday and they sent a letter out saying they weren’t authorising it and explained we could be fined,” Darren said.

“We went anyway and about a month later we got the fine through. It’s another money-making scheme.

“I’d pay it again. Prices in school holidays are ridiculous. It needs sorting but I can’t see it happening.”

Sheffield mum Sophie Priest was also hit with one of the fines and called the penalty ‘unfair’.

“I got a £60 fine which doubled to £120 because I didn’t pay,” she said.

“I gave my daughter’s school three weeks’ notice. She had 99 per cent attendance, she was top of her class and I even offered to take school work on holiday for her to do on the plane.

“I couldn’t travel in the school holidays as I was going to be too heavily pregnant to fly and wanted to give her a holiday before my second baby was born.

“School refused the time off and a fine hit my letterbox.

“It’s a money-making scam - so unfair.”

Meanwhile Keith Jones said only one headteacher notified the council about the unauthorised absence when he took his three children on holiday in term-time.

“If the headteacher isn’t a jobsworth you will be fine. We took three kids out of three different schools and only got fined by one school.

“Still, I happily paid the £120 - £60 each parent - as it saved us a lot of money in the long run.”

Pam Jones said: “We were fined £60 each parent for our holiday in May. Would do it again too. We pick when we go not the school.”

The fines for parents first hit hard in 2013, when the Department of Education overturned guidelines from 2006.

In 2006 they said schools could grant leaves of absence of up to 10 days for the purposes of a family holiday in term time in ‘special circumstances’.

But for the last three years, parents who take their children out of school without permission during term time can incur fines of £60 per parent, per period of absence - which rises to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

If the fixed penalty is not paid, parents could be prosecuted and have to attend a court hearing.

Parents are allowed to apply for authorised absences but they must get the required permission from the headteacher.

These are often given when parents seek to take their children out of school after a death in the family or for a religious holiday.

A Sheffield Council spokesman said: “Research shows that children who spend more time in education achieve higher attainment, and this is something we work closely with schools on in order to improve pupils’ attendance.

“Our big ambition is that all Sheffield children, young people and families achieve their full potential and attending school every day is an important part in this.

“Schools take different approaches depending on their individual circumstances and the children at their school. These decisions aren’t taken lightly by schools – but are taken in the interest of the children’s education. We work with schools to look at patterns and trends and collect the fines. This money is then re-invested in resources to support attendance.”