School unauthorised absence fines vary by authority, figures suggest
Parents face a postcode lottery over fines for taking their children out of school during term time without permission, figures suggest.
Data indicates that in some parts of the country councils issue few penalties for unauthorised absences, while in other areas thousands are handed out.
Figures obtained by Schools Week from 114 councils in England through Freedom of Information requests show that in the last academic year (2016/17) there were 13 authorities where fewer than 100 fines were handed out for unauthorised absences.
Of these, there were four areas where no penalty notices were issued.
At the other end of the scale, there were 30 authorities that gave out more than 1,000 fines.
Some areas have higher numbers of schools than others, which can have an impact on the number of fines issued - for example, an authority with a smaller number of schools is likely to issue fewer penalties.
The figures show that Lancashire gave out the most fines for unauthorised absences last year, with 6,876 issued.
Susie Charles, Lancashire's cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: "As Lancashire has more schools than any other local authority, we are always likely to issue the most fines.
"The decision to authorise absence or not rests with the head teacher of the particular school, and we encourage schools to work closely with parents to reduce unauthorised absences.
"Our aim throughout is not to punish parents but to ensure that children and young people attend school and receive a good education."
Unauthorised absence fines came under the spotlight again last year due to the case of Jon Platt, who lost a landmark legal battle at the UK's highest court last April over taking his daughter to Disney World during school time.
The case, which was closely watched by parents across the country, was taken to the Supreme Court by education chiefs after High Court judges, in May 2016, backed a decision by local magistrates on the Isle of Wight that Mr Platt had no case to answer over the unauthorised seven-day family trip in April 2015.
After the Supreme Court ruling, the case was referred back to Isle of Wight Magistrates' Court, where Mr Platt was convicted of failing to secure his daughter's regular attendance at school, given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £2,000 costs.
Parents can be fined £60 if their child misses school without permission, rising to £120 if the penalty is not paid within 21 days. Those that fail to pay can face prosecution.