FINES for taking children out of school during term time have been slammed by parents – but MPs insist youngsters’ attendance is crucial.

The Guardian revealed last week that the number of fines issued to parents in Cheshire in the first year following a high-profile court battle soared compared to previous years.

Recent Government figures show that 4,147 fines were issued in 2017-18 by Cheshire West and East councils combined – compared to 354 in 2016-17, 1,603 in 2015-16, 2,237 in 2014-15 and 1,636 in 2013-14.

Mike Amesbury, Labour MP for Weaver Vale, says attendance is crucial – but admits high prices for holidays outside of term time can be frustrating for financially-stretched parents.

Northwich Guardian:

He said: “Evidence shows that regular attendance at school is an important part of ensuring that children fulfil their potential. I believe there should be a clear expectation that children should be in school during term time, except for in exceptional circumstances.

“However, I completely understand the frustration of parents at the rise in the cost of family holidays – in some instances there have been huge increases that have led to many holidays becoming unaffordable. I also understand concerns about the level of the fines imposed on those who take their child out of school unauthorised.

“I welcome that the Government has been pressed to work with the travel industry to try to mitigate the cost of holidays for families who have already withstood austerity and are living on the breadline.”

The sharp rise in fines followed the legal battle involving Isle of Wight Council and Jon Platt, who was prosecuted by the Supreme Court for taking his daughter on holiday during term time in 2015.

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Under legislation, councils have the power to issue a £60 fine to parents, rising to £120 if the parent has not paid within 21 days.

If a parent still has not paid after 28 days, they can be prosecuted with a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence of up to three months.

Parents can also be ordered to go to parenting classes.

Esther McVey, Conservative MP for Tatton, welcomes the role of headteachers in having the final say on whether parents should be fined.

She added: “I am generally supportive of the rules around holidays in term time and do understand the disruption to the individual, the class and the teacher that it can cause when a pupil is on holiday during term time.

Northwich Guardian:

“Improving attendance and reducing absences has been a key focus for the Government because poor attendance can have an impact on pupils’ attainment.

“That said, I do think individual circumstance should play a part in the decision – whether that is the age of the child, time in the academic year or the nature of the trip – and that headteachers should have the ultimate say as they know the child and the degree of interruption to their education missing school may cause.”

Following last week’s story, dozens of Northwich, Knutsford, Winsford and Middlewich Guardian readers had their say on school absences on the newspapers’ Facebook pages last week – with an overwhelming number suggesting the fines are unfair.

Kay Westers said: “Kids could be off longer due to illness than what parents usually take for a holiday. We shouldn’t be fining families for trying to spend quality time together and showing them new cultures.

“Would rather see the schools fine the parents of bullies, that does far more damage to a child’s education than a trip to Disney.”

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Holly Tench added: “I am a primary teacher and I don’t believe parents should be fined. I totally understand why they choose to go in term time due to the astronomical price hike during the holidays.

“One thing parents should be mindful of though is the impact it has on their child’s learning. There are certain times of year when children need to be in school. The start of a new school year and around assessment times for example.”

Many readers agreed that the travel industry is to blame for putting up prices for breaks during school holidays.

Stephen Harrison said: “Children need a holiday too, it’s not parents’ fault that the tourist industry likes to rip off people with kids.”

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Alexandra Staton added: “If holiday firms didn’t hike up the prices there would be no need to take your children out during term time.”

However, some readers suggested that there might be times when a fine would be appropriate.

Rachel Hughes said parents should be fined if their children ‘have poor attendance’, but not otherwise.