School Penalty Fines and Authorised Absence — [Mr David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:42 pm on 11th July 2016.

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Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities), Shadow Secretary of State for Education 5:42 pm, 11th July 2016

The hon. Gentleman makes a compelling case. There are various reasons why children could be absent from school. From today’s contributions, one of the compelling reasons why people have said they would like to be able to take their children out of school is the motivation of parents to take their children on a family holiday. I completely understand and sympathise with that situation. I have been a parent for many years, and prior to coming to this House, I was on a low income. I understand and feel their frustration at the rise in cost—in some instances it is an increase of as much as 150%. That makes most holidays unaffordable for most hard-working families.

Like other Members, I want the Minister to tell us what talks are under way 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.

I also understand the concern about the level of the fines. If the fine is not paid, the parent can be prosecuted and fined up to £2,500. They can also receive a community order or even be jailed for up to three months, so I share the concerns that many Members have raised.

Following the High Court’s ruling in favour of Mr Jon Platt, the Government have made it clear that they are now considering changing the legislation and strengthening the statutory guidance given to schools and local authorities. We welcome any attempts to clear up any confusion and to remove the doubt and uncertainty about the legal position as we await a final decision on Mr Platt’s case. In the meantime, no one should be in any doubt that parents must ensure their children go to school. This is non-negotiable. Only schools can authorise absence. They have discretion in exceptional circumstances and they will hopefully use that wisely. The vast majority of parents accept that, and they accept that in a decent, law-abiding society, where our children are the country’s most precious asset, sending their children to school is the right thing to do.