Derbyshire County Council 'strongly recommends holidays are not taken during term-time'

Derbyshire County Council says it offers a range of services to support schools with truancy and absences.
Derbyshire County Council says it offers a range of services to support schools with truancy and absences.

Prosecutions of parents in Derbyshire for truancy have increased by 166 per cent in five years, statistics show.

Two councils covered by Derbyshire Constabulary - Derbyshire County Council and Derby City Council - took 916 parents to court in 2017, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

This was a huge rise from 2013 when there were just 345 prosecutions.

Of those charged in 2017, 698 - or 76 per cent - were found guilty.

Courts issued fines in 686 cases.

For Derbyshire County Council alone, statistics show there were 301 prosecutions for truancy in 2017-18, up from 25 in 2013-14 - a massive hike of 1,104 per cent.

A spokesperson for the county council said: "Derbyshire County Council and school staff want every child to do the best they can and we strongly recommend that holidays should not be taken during term-time because we know that even a small amount of time out of school can adversely affect pupils' academic achievement.

"We offer a range of services to support schools with truancy and absences. In line with Government guidelines, it is the headteacher's decision whether an absence is authorised or not.

"Where it is unauthorised, Derbyshire County Council has clear policies regarding the issue of penalty notices to parents and where there are two-parent families we will hold both parents to account.

"The increase in enforcement in Derbyshire over the past five years is as a result of the change to Government regulations which came into force in 2013 to deal with unauthorised leave in term-time."

'Every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil's chances'

Across England and Wales, prosecutions for truancy reached 18,377 during 2017 - 6,600 more than during 2013 - with parents being hit with more than 11,700 fines.

The National Education Union (NEU) said fines were counterproductive and that there was no easy fix for truancy.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: "One thing that is certainly needed, to ensure pupils are in school and engaged in learning, is a dialogue between the school and parents or carer.

"Fines invariably have the complete opposite effect, creating unnecessary tensions between schools and families.

"Clearly this is counterproductive to getting the problem resolved."

Almost two thirds of prosecutions in Derbyshire were against women.

Women were also more likely to be found guilty - 82 per cent of those prosecuted were convicted, compared to 70 per cent of men prosecuted.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of women's rights charity Fawcett Society, said it was concerning to see mothers penalised more often than fathers, adding that society was 'too quick to judge mothers'.

Both parents have a legal obligation to ensure children attend school regularly, regardless of whether they are separated.

Headteachers and councils can also issue on-the-spot fines to parents for unauthorised absences instead of taking them to court, but may prosecute if the fine is not paid.

Around 400,000 such fines were issued in England and Wales between 2014-15 and 2016-2017.

A recent academic study found that parents of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities were frequently being prosecuted for truancy when they would have benefited from more support.

Professor Rona Epstein, one of the researchers, said: "It's horrendous that these parents are prosecuted and it's costing an absolute fortune from the public purse to do so."

She added that mothers were the sole parents prosecuted in many cases - even if the child belonged to a two-parent household.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil's chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.

"We are clear that pupils can only take term-time leave in exceptional circumstances and where this leave has been authorised by the headteacher."