Should the fine for taking children out of school during term time be means tested?

Taking children out of school during term time is a growing problem for headteachers. According to BBC News, the number of fines issued to parents in England for taking children on term time holidays has almost doubled in the past year.

The Department for Education (DfE) reports that “unauthorised family holiday absence” is the most common reason for attendance fines doled out to parents. Councils can require parents to pay £60 each per child taken out of school without permission. This rises to £120 if not paid within 21 days, and after 28 days parents can be prosecuted.

But should all parents be fined the same amount? Attendance fines are designed to be a deterrent.  Unless fines are means tested they will have limited effect.  Wealthy families will view the attendance fine as simply another standard “holiday cost” of little of no consequence.  For a poor family, on the other hand, an attendance fine could mean the difference between eating or heating for a week.  

Holidays really make a difference to mental well-being and family cohesion, and fun memories can help get us through the often grim reality of life, but for millions of British families it remains an impossible, unaffordable dream.

There are organisations that exist purely to help the less well-off get a break so taking children out of school during term time may not be necessary.  The Family Holiday Association is just one and the personal stories on its website are heart-warming.

Yes everyone would like a cheaper holiday but a child’s education should come first, especially when we, the tax-payers, are paying for it!   A good education is the best engine of mobility every created and children only get one shot at it. For those who break the rules, however, social justice demands that penalties must be adjusted to reflect each families individual circumstances.  Means testing is one way of achieving this. 

Linden Kemkaran