COUNCIL chiefs yesterday agreed to issue “punitive” fines to families of children who miss school through unauthorised absences.
The parents of students who play truant or persistently turn up late at school will receive £60 fines, as will families who take their children on holiday during term time.
The new charges will rise to £120 if unpaid after four weeks and parents who refuse to pay up could end up in court.
Blaenau Gwent council launched a holiday fine policy last September but stressed none had been issued so far.
Other local authorities like Torfaen and Monmouthshire will introduce the non attendance fines this autumn. Torfaen agreed a code of conduct developed by the five Gwent authorities for implementation from the beginning of the 2014/15 academic year at an extraordinary cabinet meeting yesterday.
A code of conduct is required by Welsh Government regulations. Councils will not make any money out of the policy but it has sparked a flurry of online comments from parents, some of whom indicated they may pay the penalties and take their children on holiday during term time. One said: “As a parent I will happily pay a £60 fine if it means saving £500 by going on holiday during term time.”
Another parent said: “If you make sure your children are punctual and in all the time for lessons you should be allowed to take them for, say a maximum of 14 school days a year without fines.”
Education bosses will consider issuing fines when students lose at least 10 sessions, or five school days, due to unauthorised absence.
Only one fine will be issued over the course of an academic year under the Gwent policy approved by Torfaen council.
Parents will be able to complain to the Education Welfare Service or opt to face proceedings in magistrates’ courts. Torfaen interim head of education services, Dermot McChrystal, said yesterday the council did not authorise holidays during term time, but Cllr David Yeowell, the executive member for children and young people, stressed the fines would be issued “as a last resort”. He said: “Attendance in school is essential to improve children’s educational prospects and it reduces the risk of absence leading to criminal or anti-social behaviour.
“Fines are punitive by nature and this will cause financial difficulty for some, but parents can avoid that difficulty by working with the council to address issues early and by ensuring their children attend school regularly.”
Torfaen council said that failure to introduce the fines would be a breach of the Education (Penalty Notices) (Wales) Regulations 2013. LEAs will only be able to use money raised from fines to cover administration costs and the balance will be passed on to Welsh Government.