Thousands of Lancashire parents have been fined for ignoring tough new rules on taking pupils put of school during term time, we can reveal.
Data for the academic year 2013/14 show that 4,306 fines were issued for non attendance, including 649 in Preston, 301 and 219 in Chorley.
Although the figures reflect all unauthorised leave, the fact that they have increased dramatically is believed to be due to tough new rules on holidays during term time, with only 0.1% of the total possible school sessions missed for authorised holidays.
Rules introduced last year mean headteachers can only grant children time off in term time in “exceptional circumstances.”
Schools say that has caused headaches for staff and the Local Government Association has now called for a relaxation of the rules.
Simon Jones Lancashire’s National executive member of the national Union of Teachers said: “The problem lies with the holiday companies and airlines and if this issue is to be addressed sensibly then there should be pressure put on them, not schools.”
The National Association of Headteachers is now planning to send out new guidelines, aimed at making it easier for heads to define “exceptional”.
A county spokesman said the guidance would allow for absences for funerals, weddings, religious events and even for seeing parents returning from duty with the armed forces.
County Councillor Matthew Tomlinson, Lancashire’s cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “Headteachers in Lancashire and across the country have always been able to grant leave during term time in certain circumstances, including for holidays.
“However, in September 2013 the government introduced new national rules which restricted headteachers’ discretion. As a result, heads can now authorise time off only in exceptional circumstances.
“We encourage schools to work closely with parents to reduce unauthorised absences, and the new guidelines look as though they may alter the rules in some circumstances.”
Several schools across Preston, South Ribble and Chorley have adjusted their calendars to incorporate a two-week break in May because it was evident more parents were taking their main holiday then.
Meanwhile, latest figures show that Lancashire is winning it’s battle against unauthorised absence.
During the autumn term 2013 and the spring term 2014, overall attendance in Lancashire schools was better than the national figures, recording more than 96 per cent attendance in primary schools and over 95 per cent attendance in secondary schools.
Nationally the figures for primary absences was 3.9 per cent and 5.1 per cent for secondary pupils, Lancashire was 3.4 per cent and 3.9 per cent.+-
The data also showed that 2.1 per cent of Lancashire’s primary pupils and 4.8 per cent of secondary pupils recorded absence of less than 85 per cent,
In Preston the overall absence figures over the two terms stood at 3.9 per cent compared to 4.7 per cent over the same period in the previous year: Chorley was 3.4 per cent compared to 4.3 per cent and South Ribble down from 4.4 per cent to 3.6 per cent.
Bob Stott, director for universal and early support services, said: “Consistent attendance at school is key to attainment and we are proud that attendance levels at Lancashire’s schools are among the best in the country.
“We will continue to do all we can to encourage our schools in their efforts to ensure that attendance improves still further.”
A spokesman from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said: “ATL is pleased to see that pupil absence levels continue to fall, reflecting the hard work of schools in engaging with parents and pupils, and tackling the causes of pupil absence.
“We know that pupil absence can have a huge impact on the education outcomes and life chances of young people so it’s vital that effective interventions are supported.”