The number of fines issued to Swindon parents for taking their children out of school has risen sharply.

Last year Swindon Borough Council sent 1,882 fixed penalty notices to families for unauthorised absences, compared to 1736 in 2017/18 – a nine per cent increase.

It also made more money from the fines, £98,770 compared to £73,500 the previous year. This represents a hike of 34 per cent.

The company behind the research, The Knowledge Academy, believes the fact cut-price holidays are on offer for families during term time is a prime reason behind the increase.

Ridgeway headteacher James Povoas is the chair of the Swindon Association of Secondary Headteachers.

He agreed fines were issued mainly for parents taking their children for a holiday in term time, with about a fifth of cases being unauthorised absences for other family occasions.

Mr Povoas said: “When it comes to holidays, some parents feel the saving in the cost of the holiday might be worth the small fine from the local authority.

“But if parents are wanting to take a child to a family funeral, for example, that can be quite difficult, if they want to add more time on. We have to consider whether it’s appropriate for some children to be taken to some events."

Mr Povoas stressed that while the decision to issue fines is down to the schools, it is the council which receives the money.

He said: “The schools get no financial benefit from the penalties.

"Sometimes parents think it’s in our interest to issue a fine – but we do all the work, and sometimes it is a difficult conversation, but we don’t get any money. So that’s not why we issue fines.”

He emphasised the need for constructive conversation with parents, adding: “If a child has a good attendance record – if it’s 95.8 and we want to get it up to 96 per cent – I might allow an absence if the parents guarantee their child will get the attendance record up to that for the rest of the year.”

The Knowledge Academy is a company specialising in training and project management.

Joseph Schott said of his firm's research into the fines: “The data reveals a continuing issue with unauthorised absences in school time. And when it comes to the ‘why’ of such an issue, we believe there a few reasons.

“Going away in the holidays versus term-time can mean a hefty increase in price for families. This is often a persuading factor for parents to remove their child prematurely, a compromise which is worth the child missing a couple of potentially unimportant days of school.

“Differing rules and considerations per school can also be an issue. With a one rule for one and one for another, what is deemed as ‘unauthorised’ or ‘unacceptable’ can vary wildly between parents and schools, meaning the risk is easier to take and can be queried.

“Parents believe they shouldn’t be criminalised for such an action. On the basis of principle, especially for otherwise well-attending children, parents generally don’t agree that leaving a couple of days early or absence that genuinely can’t be avoided should not be legally penalised.”

Fines issued by Swindon Borough Council start at £60 per child per unauthorised absence.

Parents have 28 days in which to pay, but if they don’t do so within the first three weeks, the fine doubles to £120 per child’s absence

But Swindon’s increase is a long way from the highest rise, with Cornwall’s nearly quadrupling.

Conversely in Wiltshire fewer fines were made, with 1,629 a 12 per cent drop on the previous year's 1,866.

That saw the money going into County Hall drop from £87,900 to £79,920. Wiltshire's record is the second best in the country, just behind Torbay.

Parents willing to pay the price

Swindon’s parents would run the risk of paying a fine if it meant saving a lot of money on their summer holiday.

Most the Adver spoke to on the subject this week said they understood why more people are risking unauthorised absence.

Emma Bailey from Freshbrook said even though her one-year-old isn’t at school yet, she has discussed it with her partner.

She said: “It’s fine, children should be able to have an experience in a foreign country. If a family can’t afford to go during the peak times but want to give their child that experience then it shouldn’t be frowned upon. It penalises lower-income families.”

Nicola Hope from Stratton added: “I would weigh it up – the fine to the holiday. If it’s a special holiday then it might be worth the risk.

“I wouldn’t do it all the time but it would depend on the cost of the holiday because the travel companies can whack it up.

Some parents, like Anita Robertson from North Swindon, added that they would take their child out, but not during vital exam years.

Going early can save thousands

A SWINDON travel agent has seen a price difference of more than £1,000 per person when it comes to peak and off-peak holidays.

Cheryl Hopes, who works for travel company Hays Travel, says that while some parents don’t have a choice when it comes to when they can take their children out, she doesn’t blame the parents who do.

She said: “Sometimes you can’t go earlier because the children need to stay in school or perhaps you work in a school and that’s where there’s the higher demand which means a higher price.

“I’m not against taking the children out early. Personally if it can save you thousands then I would totally recommend it. But it’s up to them.”

But for parents looking to steal a deal, Cheryl said there isn’t a general rule when it comes to cheaper prices.

She added: “Travel companies are getting wiser and so they’re putting prices up just before (term ends) too. The best time could be just after or towards the end but there’s no guarantee.”