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Parent given suspended jail term as Camden families defy Gove’s term-time holiday ban

PUBLISHED: 13:00 19 December 2014

Camden families have been defying new government rules and taking their children on holidays during school term time. Picture: PA File.

Camden families have been defying new government rules and taking their children on holidays during school term time. Picture: PA File.

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Dozens of Camden families have defied new government rules banning pupils from going on holiday during school term time, new figures reveal.

Top 10 most fined schools

Parliament Hill - 22

Rhyl Primary - 22

Richard Cobden Primary - 16

Regent High School - 15

Beckford Primary - 11

Netley Primary - 10

Hampstead Parochial - 9

Maria Fidelis - 9

Primrose Hill Primary - 9

St Michael’s CE Primary - 9

* Table only reflects Camden schools in Ham&High readership area

Camden Council has raked in thousands of pounds from 308 fines for unauthorised pupil absences and taken parents to court nine times since the rules were introduced by former education secretary Michael Gove in September last year.

One Camden primary school parent was sentenced to a four-week suspended prison term after refusing to pay a council fine issued for taking their child on holiday during term time, according to data released to the Ham&High under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Department for Education (DfE) rules have sparked a backlash from parents nationwide who struggle to afford foreign holidays during school breaks – when travel companies hike holiday prices.

An online petition calling on the government to scrap the ban has attracted more than 43,000 signatures.

Marina Benjamin, a member of Camden School for Girls’ parents association, described the ban as “wrong-headed” and “ideological”.

She said: “I think it’s lazy. If the school reports poor attendance, it should be given funding to support parents.”

Last year, Camden Council banked £13,680 through fines issued to primary and secondary school parents for unauthorised pupil absences.

Parents of pupils at Parliament Hill School, in Highgate Road, received the highest number of fines for unauthorised absences (22) of all Camden secondary school parents, while parents of children at Rhyl Primary School, in Kentish Town, were the worst primary school offenders (22).

The council took parents to court nine times last year for taking their children on holiday during term time.

One primary school parent was sentenced to a four-week suspended prison term, one secondary school parent received an eight-month conditional discharge and the rest received fines.

In September last year, a law change meant headteachers are now not allowed to grant leave to pupils during term time unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.

Previously, headteachers could grant leave for the purpose of a family holiday in “special circumstances” for up to 10 school days per year.

Fines enforced by councils for unauthorised pupil absence are set at £60 if paid within 21 days, or £120 within 28 days.

Parents who fail to pay could face prosecution and a maximum fine of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.

Cllr Angela Mason, Camden cabinet member for children, said: “In Camden we have a very clear message that good attendance and punctuality at school is important.”

A DfE spokesman said: “Headteachers have the discretion to grant leave in exceptional circumstances.”

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